Students in the Just Tri It Interim class got into the outdoor pool at the Willis Road YMCA on a 54-degree morning in April and their discomfort was soon audible.

“Oh my God, it’s so cold,” one could be heard saying.

Each had personal motivation for diving into the class. Some were athletes looking for a new challenge, while others were seeking time away from the sofa.

Triathlons have been part of Dawson Henis’ life since childhood. The senior business economics major from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, watched his dad compete in Ironman competitions and the family would take trips to different states where his dad competed.

“I promised my dad I would do an Ironman with him once I finished school and my football career, and that time has finally come. So, I took this course to begin preparing for that,” says Henis, who competed in youth triathlons in elementary school before focusing on football and soccer.

Ben Cartwright, associate professor of accounting, and Dr. Jeremy Morris, assistant professor of biology, are teaching the course for the first time this Interim. Cartwright has competed in eight triathlons since taking up the sport in 2014. Morris has been a non-competitive runner and a rock climber for many years, and he focuses on meditation and yoga.

They came up with the idea for the Just Tri It course a few years ago during a conversation about exercise and the physiology of exercise. Cartwright is the triathlon expert for the class and Morris has expertise in physiology and an interest in the biology of exercise.

The class includes lectures, group discussions and personal reflections on campus, and training at the Willis Road YMCA. It will end with a mini-triathlon at the YMCA that will last about an hour and have a focus on time instead of distance.

“In the classroom, we focus on the specific activities of a triathlon in terms of training and the biology of the body when doing these activities,” says Morris. “We also focus on the mental aspect to encourage students to have a healthy relationship with exercise and care for themselves, to try to prevent our egos from being detrimental to our efforts and to be mindful of our physical and mental state during and after physical exercise. We want students to develop a good relationship with exercise, not one based on struggling, pain or competition.”

Cartwright and Morris often discuss the importance of students being in tune with their bodies and not pushing too hard. During a recent lecture, Morris discussed how competitive he was in his 20s and the benefits of reigning in his competitive nature. He suggested that students view the class as, “We’re not going to compete in a triathlon, but we’re training to do a triathlon.”

Emily Knetsche, a senior business economics major from Danville, Kentucky, competed on multiple athletics teams while in high school and she said it took a toll on her.

“I was on five teams and spent every moment competing, and it really became a very negative environment for my mental health,” says Knetsche. “So, when I went to college, I decided that instead of focusing on what I could do physically, I wanted to focus on what I could do mentally. I decided against becoming a collegiate athlete and, instead, devoted myself to classes. I decided to take this Interim class because I have recently realized that being a well-rounded person means trying to better yourself in both academics and personal health. So, I needed to re-learn how to love athletics without all of the negativity that I experienced in my past. Now, instead of competing against times or other people, like I spent all of those years doing, I just want to compete against myself. I want to understand what both my mind and my body are capable of, and triathlons are the perfect balance of healthily pushing myself in both a mental and physical capacity.”

That’s the approach Cartwright and Morris are hoping students will embrace.

“We hope that students will maintain a healthy level of physical activity for the rest of their lives,” says Cartwright. “As we are learning in the course, physical activity is a great way to keep the body and brain healthy. We are also having students keep track of sleep habits, heart rate, and we’ve talked a little about a healthy diet. All of these things are important for lifelong wellness.”