Ex-Blue Devils, cheered by alumnae, finish Wis. Ironman

By University Communications
September 23, 2016
Alumnae from the 2003 to 2007 women’s basketball teams at UW-Stout gather in Madison to cheer on two former teammates in the Wisconsin Ironman.

Photo: Alumnae from the 2003 to 2007 women’s basketball teams at UW-Stout
gather in Madison to cheer on two former teammates in the Wisconsin Ironman.


Savanah Oeltjen won the UW-Stout women's basketball Sixth Man Award several times. Amanda Geissler was the undersize point guard for the Blue Devils who consistently played above her height.

Both were tough as nails when they graced the UW-Stout women's basketball lineup from 2003 to 2007. 

It was no surprise to hear they both had taken on Ironman-type activities and both competed Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon in Madison.
 
The Ironman Wisconsin consists of a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Monona, a 112-mile bicycle run through the hills outside of Madison and finally a 26.2-mile run —a full marathon — throughout Madison.

The event turned into a reunion of sorts for the Blue Devils women's basketball team that made three appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament. Oeltjen and Geissler were joined by Erin Churchill, Steffanie Nemitz, Kelsey Duoss, Lindsey Erichsen, Bonnie Thoe, Laura Verdegan, Brittany Evert, Char Edwards, Jenny Johnson, Mary Schaefer and Amanda's sister, Lindsey Geissler.
 
Oeltjen, a native of Spring Valley, Minn., is a trainer at LA Fitness in Oakdale, Minn., and lives in Woodville. Her interest in the Ironman began when she first ran a half-Ironman in June 2015.
 
"I wasn't sure if I wanted to run a full Ironman, so I volunteered at the 2015 Ironman Wisconsin," Oeltjen said. "As a volunteer, I couldn't ignore the emotions and feelings when that first woman came across. So I decided I was going to do it."
 
Amanda Geissler, left, and Savanah OeltjenOeltjen worked up a training program leading up to this year's race that required her to train daily. "You can't just do running and think that will get you there," Oeltjen said. "I also had to do strength training, in particular core and back training."
 
At her peak, Oeltjen trained 18 to 20 hours a week, working each of the three Ironman activities. She began to taper her workouts about three weeks before the event.

Geissler, a native of Thorp, is a sales representative based out of St. Paul. She was inspired by Bryan Rud, a UW-Stout alumnus who was her off-campus neighbor during her senior year.
 
"I watched Bryan run an Ironman in 2012 and knew that someday I was going to do one," Geissler said. "Last year I hit my peak of crazy and decided to go after it. I didn't own a bike and couldn't even put my head under the water when I signed up. Once I registered a year out from the race, I knew I would have to put a plan in place and figure it out. That's what I did. Now I'm an Ironman."
 
Previous to running her first triathlon, a sprint triathlon last summer, Geissler had run eight marathons and one ultra-marathon since graduating from UW-Stout. "After I did that first triathlon last summer," Geissler said, "I knew this was going to be the year I was going to do it."
 
Geissler hired a swim coach in October because "I know that was the biggest hurdle." She also bought a bicycle in November, joined a triathlon club and started her training in earnest after the New Year for the race in September.
 
Competitors churn the water during the first leg of the race.

Long day on the course

The Ironman Wisconsin got underway with the swim at 7 a.m.

Geissler’s goal was to finish in 13 hours or less. She had nearly 30 supporters — family, friends, triathlon club members and her former UW-Stout teammates — cheering her on.

Oeltjen and Geissler actually met up as they entered the water. "It was almost like we were back at Stout and coming out onto the floor again," Geissler said.
 
But Geissler's race didn't start off well. She was kicked in the face and her goggles filled with water, impairing her sight. "I pretty much couldn't see the entire race," Geissler said. "My goggles filled and I just followed bodies. If I stopped, I would have been run over."
 
Oeltjen’s day started off "great," but she also had some problems in the water. "I was doing real well, swimming the best I ever had," Oeltjen said. "Then I cramped twice, once in each leg. The last half of the race my swimming was all upper body."

The bicycle portion started off well, but Oeltjen ran into issues there. "On the second loop, the wind picked up and I was not ready for that," Oeltjen said. "My body needed nutrition faster than it was getting and I had to take a timeout — twice."
 
She became somewhat disoriented on the bike, but "whenever something went wrong, I pushed through it," Geissler said. "When something goes wrong, it's up to your attitude to control the situation."
 
Amanda Geissler bears down on the bike course.On the bike course, her sister Lindsey, who had flown in from California to see the event, arranged the former UW-Stout players about every 10 miles or so.

“Their support was amazing. I heard them yell out inspirational things. I got the extra boosts. I heard them loud and clear,” Oeltjen said.

“You couldn't miss those girls," Geissler said. "They helped me so much. They were cheering as hard as we were working."

When Oeltjen was getting off the bike to get ready for the run, the background music song was "Running with the Devils."
 
"It was the perfect time for that song," Oeltjen said.

 Geissler finished in 12 hours, 53 minutes, just under her goal of 13 hours. She finished the swim at 1:17, the bike at 6:39 and the run at 4:39. Overall, she finished 813th and was 193rd among females.
 
Oeltjen's goal was in the 12- to 13-hour range, but after the bike event, she knew that was no longer a possibility. "With everything going on, I just said I was going to enjoy this," Oeltjen said. "I said to myself, 'We are finishing this thing.'"

She finished in 16 hours, 31 minutes, finishing the swim in 1:19, the bike in 8:31 and the run in 6:17. She finished 2,117 overall and 652 for females.

The race drew 2,800 competitors.

Oeltjen, who would like to become an Ironman coach, raised more than $3,500 for the Ironman Foundation as part of her effort. "I wanted to be part of more than just doing it for myself," Oeltjen said.

Both agreed this was not a one-time event for them. "I will probably do more (Ironman events)," said Oeltjen. "Like any athlete, once you do something, you just know you can do it better."
 
"By next year, I will be a two-time Ironman," Geissler said. "This was really a special day for Savanah and I individually. With all of the family, friends and Stout support, this was a day I will never forget."

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Photos

Second Photo: Former Blue Devils Amanda Geissler, left, and Savanah Oeltjen, finished the Wisconsin Ironman.
Third Photo: Competitors churn the water during the first leg of the Wisconsin Ironman.
Bottom Photo: Amanda Geissler bears down on the bike course during the race.