NAUGATUCK — The attributes of a successful athlete include determination, hard work, skill, teamwork and a never-give-up, win-at-all-costs attitude.
That goes for any sport: baseball, football, basketball, swimming, tennis or whatever fuels the fire of competition within the athlete.
Then there are triathletes, who push the boundaries of physical endurance to levels that can’t quite be measured.
Naugatuck native Cassie Maximenko has not only embraced the grueling field of triathlon competition, she has excelled in it.
On June 16 Maximenko defended her title at the Pat Griskus Olympic-distance triathlon. It marked her fifth time in the competition and the 29-year-old athlete won for the third straight time. Maximenko covered the distance of the one-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 6.2 mile run in a head-shaking time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, 25 seconds.
That wasn’t even her best time as she collapsed at the finish line but it was four minutes better than the second-place finisher.
“I had a little bit of a crash landing,” Maximenko said at the time. She called it her “hardest win” in part because she was a little under the weather for the race.
Her love for long-distance competition didn’t really materialize until the end of high school. In fact, as a member of the Naugatuck High School track and field team, her specialty was the long jump.
“I actually got involved with triathlons in my senior year of high school,” Maximenko said. “I took part in the bicycle portion of the Pat Griskus triathlon. After that I figured I could swim and I trained for long distance at the YMCA in Naugatuck. Surely I could run and it wasn’t long after that I began training for all three. That’s how I got started.”
When she started college she kicked up her dedication.
“I really got into it in my freshman year at Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport,” Maximenko said. “I studied sports medicine and went on to earn my masters degree at the Arizona School of Health Sciences.”
Maximenko had her sights set on being an athletic trainer but they work under the direction of a physician. So she returned home to become that physician and finished up her education, earning a doctorate degree in chiropractic medicine at the University of Bridgeport and then earned her second master’s degree in nutrition.
During her workday she is known as Dr. Cassandra Maxiemnko, working with Dr. Christopher Dembski at the Southbury Chiropractic office.
At home she is the wife of Michael Maximenko, a Naugatuck graduate who is also a triathlete, having competed in more than 200 triathlons.
“My husband Michael is the real triathlete,” Cassie said. “He and his friends are always competing and they really encourage me to compete.”
She’s competed in all sorts of triathlons, including sprint (half-mile swim, 12-mile bike, 5k run), Olympic (one-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 6.2-mile run) and half-ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run). The ironman competition doubles those final distances.
On July 11 Maximenko won her second straight Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon held at Quassapaug Amusement Park, narrowly defeating Jeanne Theleen of Southbury by a little less than a minute with a time of 1:04.02. It was Maximenko’s third in win four years.
But Maximenko’s real pleasure doesn’t even come when she competes.
“The biggest thrill for me is coaching other athletes in triathlons,” Maximenko said. “I coach on my internet-based site, TriMax-Training.com, and recently had one of my athletes compete in an ironman and he did incredibly well. That is so rewarding to me to see an athlete fulfill his potential through all the sacrifices they make to compete at that level.”
Maximenko will be at it again Saturday when she will compete at the USAG Nationals in Burlington, Vt. That will be a final tune-up for the Half-Ironman Worlds as Maximenko will go up against the best athletes in the world Sept. 9 in Las Vegas.