By Sarah Burns ’19
The cold water consumed him as his broad shoulders and lean frame dove under the water. His quadriceps flexed as his legs cycled like continuous clockwork while his hands grasped the handle bars. The weight of his body pinched through each nerve with every step his foot pounded into the pavement. And yet, his mind was other places.
His mind was on Australian sports television, where an imaginary commentator was commenting on his progress from a bird’s eye view. Couch heard the commentator say in an Australian accent,
“Couch is coming up closely. Is he going to have enough strength to pass him now or in the end? Couch is taking the lead from number 61 on the right!”
PLU sophomore, Sam Couch, 20, earned the opportunity this past September to run at the USA Triathlon Olympic Distance National Championships in August 2016. Couch’s uncommon amount of constant energy and carefree spirit have morphed him into a unique kind of athlete that has the potential to surprise many at Nationals this coming summer.
Couch’s first taste of triathlons came in his high school years with a local meet being held in his hometown of Hamilton, Mont. Although Couch had no sufficient training, he placed in the top percent of competitors. While it would be years later before Couch would again call himself a triathlete, it’s hard to ignore his naturally gifted athleticism and spirit.
Around PLU’s campus, Couch has many labels including student, residential advisor, tour guide, and most importantly and perhaps most well-known, “the guy with constant energy.”
Couch’s uncanny desire to always do everything all the time is a trait that most lack. For Couch, it’s a part of who he has always been. Regarding Couch’s childhood, Suzanne Berg, Couch’s mother, said,
“When God was creating Sam, he forgot to turn the fuel pump off.”
While Couch’s energized shenanigans may have drove his mother to complete exhaustion, they propelled him to where he is today.
Couch began training two months before his first official triathlon since high school. With only two months of training, Couch clocked a time of 2:30:01, good enough for a second-place finish in his age group.
While most would have celebrated their achievement with fist pumps or pictures on the podium, Couch immediately sought out the advice of professional athletes at the race for tips on how to lighten the weight on his bike. He called his old swim coach, Olympian and former world-record holder, Dave Berkoff, for advice on stroke workouts. Anyone that could possibly give advice, Couch got in contact with.
Fast forward four months after the Lake Stevens meet, to January 2016 and one would find Couch gazing at his computer screen, eyes bugging out of his head. The man who is known for having constant energy, was stone still. The computer screen held the biggest surprise of his athletic career.
Couch was going to be a competitor in the USA Triathlon Olympic Distance National Championships in Omaha, Neb. with a chance to qualify for world’s.
It took a while for everything to settle in, but when it finally did, all Couch could remember saying was, “It’s all real.”
Even the people who knew Couch best, were shocked.
“Sam was never a runner, so it completely blew my mind. After the [Lake Stevens] meet, he told me ‘I had fun’ and that was about it,” said Couch’s mother. “One thing about Sam though, is that he could never take no for an answer. He always wanted to prove you wrong.”
And prove people wrong is exactly what he did. Couch booked his ticket for Omaha, Neb. and then began training again with as much intensity and motivation as Couch could give.
For Couch, the physical demands of the sport were equal to the mental demands as well.
Couch trained his body through speed workouts and broken swim miles while also practicing his ability to keep his mind focused on the task at hand without becoming overwhelmed.
As a psychology major, Couch found new and fascinating ways to train his brain as well as his endurance. Couch said, “I looked at things differently,” following his declaration as a psychology major. During training, Couch was able to describe the feelings in his head and logically diagnose and work through each one.
When Couch crosses the finish line at Nationals, he will no longer be in Omaha, Neb. His mind will take him to in a large coliseum in Sydney, Australia with thousands cheering his name. The sports commentator will be sitting in the press box telling all of the fans about the feat Sam Couch had just accomplished. In an Australian accent of course.