On Sunday mornings, Bobby Hammond takes to the road. He goes for long cruises, often taking 70-mile routes through the streets in and around his native Flanders, N.J. But Bobby Hammond still can't drive a car.
The 16-year-old's preferred set of wheels is his $10,000 Blue road bike. That bicycle has carried Hammond through thousands of miles of training, sustaining the teen's dream of becoming an elite triathlete and perhaps earning a berth on the U.S. Olympic team in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Hammond knows that the road to the Olympics is long and the destination is still far off. He is most focused on training for whatever race is next. This weekend, that will take him to Fairmount Park for the Philly TriRock Triathlon.
The Olympic distance course on which Hammond will compete on Sunday includes a 1,500-meter swim in the Schuylkill, a 24.8-mile bicycle race, and 6.2-mile run. Although he is only 16, this will be Hammond's fourth year competing alongside the pros on the full-length course - a remarkable feat given that the average age of the field is 38.
In 2012, the Philadelphia triathlon was Hammond's first Olympic distance race. He finished in less than 2 hours, 30 minutes, earning him several sponsorships and the attention of professional triathlete Matty Reed. A 2008 Olympian, Reed now coaches Hammond from California through an online training module, Training Peaks.
"Doing it alone isn't fun," Hammond said. "There are days when you know it's going to stink and you have to put yourself in pain, basically, to get better."
In the 2014 race, Hammond finished 38th overall among the men and first in the male under-19 age group in 2:06:08. This year, he hopes to shave several minutes off his time. From a strategy perspective, he is most confident about the swimming leg.
"It's so much easier than what I'm used to - pool swimming," he said. Hammond trains with the Berkeley (N.J.) Aquatic Club three times a week, covering three to four miles each practice. By comparison, the Philadelphia triathlon's 0.9-mile swim is practically a warm-up.
"I wake up in the morning and I'm relieved because I get to go swim," he said. "My race really doesn't start until the bike."
Unlike most of his competition, Hammond is still growing, and given his small frame he lacks the muscle mass necessary to build momentum through the course's hilly terrain.
This disadvantage will play into Hammond's strategy come Sunday, but he knows it is only temporary. According to his father, Bob Hammond Jr., "The pros all tell him that just by getting older, you will get faster."
In the meantime, Bobby is eyeing two things: a podium finish in the elite racing division, the level just below professional, and a letter from the New Jersey DMV confirming the time and date of his driver's test.
Philadelphia TriRock Triathlon
At Fairmont Park.
When: Saturday at 7:30 a.m.
Distance: 800-meter swim, 15.7-mile bike, 3.1-mile run.
Olympic distance race
When: Sunday at 6:30 a.m.
Distance: 1,500-meter swim, 24.8-mile bike, 6.2-mile run.
Prizes: Winners of the male and female divisions will each take home $6,000. - Laine Higgins