Penn State Alum Runs, Swims, & Bikes His Way To Triathlon Victory

Just last month, Penn State alum Matt Guenter took home a national championship title for winning the USA Triathlon not only once, but twice in one weekend.

When Guenter first came to Penn State, he was on the varsity swim team as a preferred walk-on.

“It was a good experience, but I realized after a year that it wasn’t exactly what I hoped it would be,” Guenter said. “I wasn’t performing to the level that I thought I was able to.”

With this, Guenter decided to quit the team a couple of weeks into his sophomore year. By that point, he had already been introduced to the world of triathlon by his sister, who ran cross country and track at Penn State years prior.

The summer going into his sophomore year, Guenter, along with his sister and another friend of his, competed in a triathlon as a team. He participated in the swim leg, his sister did the bike leg, and his friend ran the run leg.

“I remember looking at the results of that race, and I was like, ‘I think I could do all three of these by myself,'” Guenter said. “I remember thinking that it seemed like a super cool sport. I knew I could run and swim, and I figured I could learn how to bike.”

Guenter joined the club triathlon team during his sophomore year after he quit swimming and started training. At first, it was kind of tough for Guenter to join a new team and put himself out there.

“I was nervous, to be honest, about joining the club triathlon team,” Guenter said. “I was just pretty shy at the time, so it was hard to make that jump, especially because I was used to being a D1 athlete. I was used to taking things very seriously. But, I mean, it was the best decision I made to actually go and join that.”

Flash forward to his junior year, he was an important member of the club and eventually became the vice president. He spent all that year training with another former Penn State triathlete, Cody Moore, who coached him remotely. All his hard work paid off when he won all three collegiate races that were held in the fall of his senior year.

Once he graduated in 2019, Guenter moved out to Colorado where he continued to compete and train.

“It’s kind of funny story,” Guenter said. “There’s a lot of other Penn State triathletes that live out in Colorado as well. Like very high nationally ranked triathletes, as well as my old coach. There’s a bunch of Penn State contingent out here that’s very strong, which is nice to have a little connection to home.”

In Colorado, Guenter found himself still constantly training, usually between 16 to 20 hours a week — 50% toward cycling, 30% toward running, and around 20% toward swimming.

Courtesy of Matt Guenter

“In a triathlon, you spend roughly that percentage of the time doing each of the three sports, like the cycling leg is by far the longest in duration,” Guenter said. “So, you get more bang for your buck if you spend more time training for cycling than you would for swimming since it’s a shorter duration.”

Moving across the country out to Colorado was another difficult adjustment for Guenter since he was no longer with his team and longtime friends. The adjustment was especially difficult since he was just getting settled in at the start of the pandemic.

Once the pandemic hit, Guenter didn’t swim or run much for eight months and decided it would be best for him to go out and ride his bike more. Doing so helped him in the long run for cycling, which he didn’t have much experience with. His main goal during that summer was training for a bike route in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that totaled 175 miles, which he eventually completed entirely in nine hours.

In April 2021, Guenter faced his biggest challenge yet. His dad passed away unexpectedly.

“Him and my mom are by far my biggest fans in triathlon, so that was definitely hard to get through last year,” Guenter said. “And I mean, continues to affect me. But, I also know how he’s super proud of my dedication. He’s the one that introduced me into swimming, and he always really cheered me on. Last year, I definitely had to change my training up because I was emotionally exhausted, but I’ve been able to train much more this year, just because I’m not as emotionally tired and stressed.”

Guenter was able to still involve his dad in his races by wearing his dad’s company hat, which was really meaningful to him.

“I won every race I did this year when I’ve worn that hat,” Guenter said. “So, it’s been a bit lucky.”

Guenter even wore the hat for his biggest race this year — the USA Triathlon. The first day was the Olympic distance and the second day was the super sprint distance, and Guenter won both days.

“After those races, I felt really happy,” Guenter said. “I know, that’s not a strong word, but just like in the purest form of the word, like ecstatic and jubilant. I felt very validated and satisfied because I trusted the process and it all had worked out how I thought it would. I also was very happy because I won the race by a pretty large margin. I won by three minutes and 46 seconds, which is the biggest margin anyone’s ever won by.”

Guenter remains both grateful and humbled that he was able to successfully conquer a huge race like the USA Triathlon.

“With competing in triathlons, there’s just no shortcuts,” he said. “It might take longer than you think, but it’s about being consistent. You really have to find joy in what you do. I think that’s true for anything in life. If you want to be like dedicated or committed to something, you have to like what you’re doing. You know, I don’t train for triathlons just because I want to win a national championship. I train for them because I made a lot of friends through the sport and I enjoy challenging myself. So, find joy in the sport and be consistent with it.”

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your tips, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @evan.halfen or email: [email protected]

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