NAUGATUCK — It was a learning curve experience, one that Tim Steiskal hopes to take with him Wednesday night when the aspiring triathlete heads for the stretch run at the 26th annual BMW of Watertown Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon.
A year ago, over an estimated span five football fields long, the Naugatuck native and ex-Southern Connecticut State University swimming captain led pro triathlete Chris Thomas during the bike and run transition area.
“I looked back and I realized that I had a substantial lead, but knew that the run, even though it’s only 3.1 miles, wasn’t my strongest point of the race,” said Steiskal.
He knew he was in trouble when Thomas, now a three-time winner of the event, kept gaining momentum. Thomas, from Easton, edged out Steiskal with a time of 57 minutes, 19 seconds, 39 seconds better than Steiskal’s 57:58.
Afterward the 39-year-old Thomas praised Steiskal, saying that he didn’t think he had a chance to catch the up-and-coming athlete, along with third-place finisher Trevor Heller of Naugatuck (58:38).
“When I heard Chris say that, I was thrilled,” noted Steiskal recently. “Chris doesn’t need to race here, but he loves promoting this race. He can go anywhere in the country to train, but he stays around here. I have so much respect for him and how he goes about things.”
Should his seventh attempt at the Griskus sprint race be lucky, Steiskal will be ecstatic.
“I’ll be absolutely satisfied if I have a good race and a good time and still not win,” said Steiskal. “I’ll cross the finish line, give Chris and Trevor a hug, like I always do, and not have to wonder what more I could have done that day.”
Steiskal’s best previous finish was in 2010 when he finished in fourth place right behind Daniel Theleen of Southbury. Thomas won that race, too.
Back in high school, thanks to the encouragement and urging of Naugatuck swim coach Jim McKee and Tim Walsh, and teammate Kyle Doy, Steiskal caught the triathlon fever. That year, in 2006, Steiskal was 51st with a time of 1:12.12 but dramatically dropped his time to 1:06.27 for a 10th-place finish a year later.
Since he began cross-training year-round, his swimming career flourished and his desire to become a pro triathlete has strengthened. At age 22, Steiskal appears on his way, but he still needs to learn from his past.
“I think experience definitely plays a big role,” he said. “I’m better trained, much older and my body is stronger. I learned how to race, too. I used to go after it as a swimmer, but when you do that, that kills your body. I always go hard on the bike. I am a good cyclist, but then will always slip on the run. I learned to conserve energy and take my time early, but being a hothead and a little brazen has hurt me.
“I’ve learned that you need to be smarter than go harder. I had been stubborn. My competitive attitude and spirit took over. I used to worry about everyone else instead of concentrating on my own race. If I take care of myself, I am guaranteed to have a good race.”
Steiskal is working with a coach, Eric Hoka, who has taught Steiskal to focus and relax on each of the three stages rather than put emphasize the swim or bike.
“I’ve taken his advice and it has worked so far,” said Steiskal, who came in third at the Rev3 race in June and the eighth at the Griskus Olympic Distance. Recently, he was the second-fastest amateur in a field of 4,700 in Philadelphia.
“I feel I have the tools, talent and vascular strength to be great and to really excel, but I can’t let my mind get in the way. Swimming at Southern really helped me. I owe a lot of what type of athlete I am to Southern.”
This summer, he is working with the Naugatuck Parks and Recreation department in a 40-hour paid internship, supervising the summer age-group swim program at the high school and working in the office.
“Kim Eyre (recreation director) has shown me the ropes and is allowing me to do all of the jobs, almost like an apprenticeship,” he said. “She has shown me so much respect and opened the doors to me. I am so appreciative of the opportunity. I grew up here and love this town and take a lot of pride saying I am from Naugatuck.”
He also appreciates that his supporting cast — which includes dad, Brian; mom, Vickie; sister, Lacy; and girlfriend, Magan Kalin — is right by his side.
“They all keep me going and keep my competitive spirit strong,” Steiskal said, especially Lacy. “When I am racing, Lacy is a loud and proud sister.”