Life in the fast lane

2010 FLHS grad Gaby Bunten racing to success as a triathlete


Kat Ladwig
Sports Editor

For Forest Lake native and 2010 graduate Gaby Bunten, life in the fast lane is the only way to live.

At just 20 years old, Bunten recently qualified for the World International Triathlon Union Championships to be held in Hyde Park in London in September of 2013.

Gaby Bunten

“This will be the biggest competition I’ve ever done, and hopefully I’ll kick butt,” Bunten said. “You really can’t get a more gorgeous area over in Hyde Park, and it’s cool to get to compete where the Olympians just competed.”

The Iowa State University junior qualified for the London competition after placing in the top 18 in her age group at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Burlington, Verm. this August.

This is only Bunten’s second year competing in triathlons. The University of North Dakota recruited her for its Division I swimming program after she excelled in the distance events as a Ranger, twice reaching state. But like most long-distance athletes in highly competitive programs, staying healthy turned into a challenge for Bunten.

Gaby Bunten, a 2010 graduate of Forest Lake High School, has a new passion. Though relatively new to triathlons, the 20-year-old has found quick success. (Photo submitted)

After a major setback in ninth grade with a misdiagnosed bout of mononucleosis, Bunten encountered another scare last year while swimming at UND: viral meningitis.

“She’s hit a few speed bumps with her health,” Bunten’s mom, Kim Bunten said. “She has definitely learned through her training that if you overtrain, your body will just shut down physically and mentally.”

Her college coaches at North Dakota, as would most D-I coaches, expected her to be back in the pool after just two days rest. However, having experienced the danger of training through illness before, Bunten knew it wouldn’t be wise to continue with UND’s swimming program.

“It was a great school and I loved it, but after being pressured into swimming through that, things just didn’t work out,” Bunten said.

It took her the rest of the year to recover from the meningitis virus, during which a fellow Fighting Sioux swimmer, 21-year-old Dan Jacobson from Anoka, encouraged her to try triathlons.

“I knew her workouts were all different and she’s a really hard worker. So I said, you love running, biking and swimming. You should try a triathlon,” Jacobson said.

A fierce competitor, Bunten began increasing and varying her training last year after her health and strength returned. Bunten proved her work ethic by having a stellar summer of races, placing first at three different triathlons for the non-pro/elite division, including: the New Bri Tri in New Brighton, the Minneman Triathlon and the Lake Minnetonka Triathlon.

“She just fell in love with the sport,” Jacobson said. “I’m really happy that she did that great in just one year.”

Her enthusiasm for triathlons was enough to make her research a change in schools while still at UND. She found that while triathlons are not yet an NCAA sport, and therefore can’t lead to athletic scholarships, she could receive an academic scholarship and still be a part of ISU’s triathlon team. Bunten decided to make the move.

“It’s just where my passion lies, so I decided to focus on it,” Bunten said. “I don’t regret my decision at all.”

The Cyclone co-ed triathlon squad runs six days a week, with group bike rides and swims throughout the week as well, allowing for either group or individual training. Another benefit of the transfer was the strong kinesiology program at the school in Ames.

“We always told Gaby to pursue her main interest in school,” Kim Bunten said of herself and her husband, Bob. “So it’s neat that she’s able to incorporate her real love with her job.”

The Buntens understand their only child’s love of distance and endurance sports. While Kim experienced bumps and bruises after years of showing horses, skiing and cycling, Bob is also active in running and cycling.

“I think I really just got it from my parents, we’re all suckers for punishment, I guess,” Bunten said. “You just learn to love challenging yourself.”

With the London race next September, Bunten’s next challenge will be training properly. Her triathlon coach, 32-year-old Aaron Briggs of White Bear Lake, is optimistic about Bunten’s future in the sport. Not only did she end this season on a high by winning the Aug. 25 Maple Grove Triathlon in the collegiate women’s’ olympic division, she already qualified for the USAT Collegiate Nationals this coming spring. The qualification may calm some nerves and allow her to focus more on the London course.

For the international competition, Briggs said Bunten’s collegiate background in swimming is a huge advantage. Add that to her natural gift in running efficiently, along with the strides Bunten has made in biking this summer, and she will be a force in London.

“I’ve worked with a lot of athletes that become triathletes, and only a handful of them have had her kind of raw talent,” Briggs said.

Bunten also plans on honing her various skills to be a presence at the London race next year, and has no doubts she has the training resources and support she needs to compete at the highest level.

“There’s always just that drive to perform at your best,” Bunten said. “And there’s no better feeling than knowing there’s nothing more you could have done.”