Triathlete standing tall
Big, brawny men have pushed ahead of her, telling petite 14-year-old Haele Jasen of Belgium she belongs at the back of the pack with the other children.
The young triathlete often swims past the surprised men and is one of the first to jump on her bicycle for the second leg of the race.
Barely 5 feet on her tiptoes and weighing only 98 pounds, Haele is a fierce competitor who sets lofty goals for herself. Her dream is to be an Olympic athlete — and she’s working hard to accomplish that goal.
Haele is the youngest competitor to register in the elite division for the Trek Women Triathlon Chicagoland Series in Pleasant Prairie, which will start at 7 a.m. Sunday, July 11.
She will swim 1/2 mile, then bike 12 miles and finish with a 3.1-mile run. She intends to beat last year’s remarkable performance
Haele finished second overall in the Danskin Triathlon Series held on the same course last August. It was the first time she qualified for the elite division, and that’s where she intends to stay.
“I was going to move into Olympic competition (which is more than twice the distance for each sport), but decided I wanted to try for the podium,” she said.
“The elite athletes are in the first wave, and that’s where you need to be. There are so many people in triathlons who aren’t good swimmers. It’s important to get ahead of them because you want a good start.”
It’s almost impossible to pass during the biking portion, she said, because elite bikers are traveling at fast speeds.
“You have to stay three bike lengths away from other bicyclists and you have only three minutes to pass. At the speeds we’re going, that’s almost impossible, so you want to be near the front,” Haele said.
Running is her strongest sport, she said, and she can often make up time in the 3.1-mile run.
This is only her second year competing in triathlons. Two years ago, she entered her first triathlon as part of a relay team with two friends. Each did one leg of the race. Haele swam the half-mile course
“I enjoyed that so much I wanted to do the entire triathlon,” Haele said.
She competed in five sprint triathlons last year, finishing in the top 20 each time. But the real joy was standing on the podium after her first elite-level competition at the Danskin Triathlon.
“I love to win. Who doesn’t?” Haele asked. “I’ve always liked racing. I love the feeling of getting to that point that you’re trying as hard as you can, then you give something more. It’s very thrilling.
“I’ve always been an athlete. Every time I see something that’s bigger and more of a challenge, I want to do it.”
She’s been on swim, dive and gymnastics teams since she was 6, but said running fits her best.
She recently bought a $2,000 triathlon bike with an aluminum frame. She paid for half the cost through baby sitting, grass-cutting and weeding jobs. She’s now saving for triathlon tires that cost $2,000 a pair.
Haele trains in at least one sport every day.
She swims in Random Lake with her mother Laura and sister Lexi, bikes with her mother and runs with the Ozaukee Runners Club.
“I have my running dad and running grandpa. They’re always looking out for me,” said Haele of the two men who have taken her under their wings.
“I had been running by myself, and it’s not fun. I love the club. You get a lot of advice and help with injuries. We have people who run five miles and those who run 100 miles.”
Her mother found the club on the Internet.
“They really watch out for her,” her mother said. “When she bikes and swims with us, we’ll call her back so she doesn’t get out of our sight.”
Haele said she has the most fun with runners.
“Runners are the friendliest people. They’re welcoming and don’t have big egos. Maybe it’s because there are so many runners and there is always someone faster,” she said.
“Swimmers are serious, very disciplined and tend not to be as welcoming. We’ve met a few nice bikers, but there are some hard-core bikers who are rude and think they own the bike path.”
Although she likes to beat the guys, Haele said she prefers competing against women.
“Men are rough. They jump in front of you, kick and hit. They hate it when women pass them, especially if they’re in the first wave and women were in the second wave,” Haele said.
“Women are much nicer and friendlier.”
Haele was diagnosed with asthma last year and carries an inhaler with her at all times. It obviously hasn’t slowed her down.
Her parents Laura and Jim just look on in awe, as they do with all three of their adopted children.
Haele spent the first 22 months of her life in a Romanian orphanage before joining her siblings Lexi, 15, and Zachary, 17, who were born in Wisconsin and adopted as infants.
“We were told there was the possibility Haele would have detachmant syndrome, health problems and a myriad of other things that thankfully didn’t appear,” her mother said.
“She had very little language. She knew only two words. With two siblings, the language came very quickly. She’s made great strides.”
Due to malnutrition as an infant, Haele is unlikely to grow taller than 5 feet, her mother said.
The sisters, who are very different in personalities and interests, are best friends and inseparable. Lexi, who prefers dancing and music to sports, is 10 months older than Haele. She was also on swim and gymnastics teams.
Their brother Zachary has developmental disabilities and is a Special Olympian in several sports.
WITH A FEW of many medals around her neck, Haele Jasen, who was born in Romania, overcame early developmental deficits to become a competitive triathlete. Photo by Sam Arendt