Failure Is His Fuel: Randolph AD Croucher a High-Level Triathlete

  • Croucher competes in the running leg of the Xterra French River triathlon in June in Oxford, Mass. 

  • Randolph Union High athletic director Steve Croucher, center, celebrates atop the podium after winning the men’s age 25-29 division at the International Triathlon Union Cross Triathlon World Championship in Penticton, British Columbia, in August. To Croucher’s right is fellow U.S. resident Katarina Marks, the female 25-29 winner. 

  • Randolph Union High School athletic director Steve Croucher rides in the bike leg of the Xterra Syracuse triathlon last summer in New York’s Twin Lakes State Park.

  • Steve Croucher, of Fayston, Vt., stands in the Randolph Union High School weight room on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, at the school in Randolph, Vt. Croucher is an elite-level off-road triathlete when he isn't working as the athletic director at Randolph. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Randolph — While off-road triathlete Steve Croucher’s results competing in last month’s Xterra World Championships in Hawaii might not have been what he was aiming for — equipment issues led to dehydration and a middling time of 3 hours, 20 minutes, 28 seconds — the trip was nonetheless successful.

The next day, the 28-year-old Randolph Union High athletic director proposed to girlfriend Joanna Ferreri during a sunset cruise around Maui, and she said yes.

Plus, Croucher finds plenty of value in coming up short.

“I love failure, because it’s an opportunity to learn,” said Croucher in an interview from his office at Randolph, where he’s in his third year as the Galloping Ghosts’ AD. “If you fail, to me, it’s a good sign. It means you have plenty more to work on, and you won’t get overconfident.”

Croucher could start with more reliable gear. When the nozzle on his liquid reservoir broke early in his World Championship race, he lost nearly all of a concoction containing water, electrolytes and about 400 calories.

“I lost two full liters in about 30 seconds,” Croucher recalled.

It forced him to tough out the 1-mile swim, 20-mile mountain bike ride and 6.5-mile trail run without proper nutrition or fuel. He still managed to place 22nd of 43 competitors in his men’s 25-29 age group, 109th of 704 finishers overall.

The heat and humidity in the Aloha State that day, as both Croucher and Ferreri attested, was beyond oppressive.

“I was suffering badly in that heat as a spectator,” said Ferreri, who met Croucher when both were swimmers at Ithaca (N.Y.) College. “I cannot imagine climbing, biking and running in that without enough water.”

It was a rare competitive blip for Croucher, who’d enjoyed a stellar year beginning with the 2016 Pan American Championships in Utah.

Despite severe leg cramping that forced him to sit for 1½ minutes and finish the race in pain, he won his age group in 2:51.13.

“The run portion of that race has 700 feet of vertical gain, which might not sound like much, but it feels like a lot when you’ve just ridden 28 kilometers and gained 3,400 feet on a bike,” Croucher said. “That bike portion is really just one steady climb. Once you start going up, you just keep climbing.”

The result earned Croucher qualification to last month’s world championships, as well as an invitation to the International Triathlon Union Cross Triathlon World Championships in British Columbia in August. Suited in USA Triathlon garb for the occasion — he was contacted by the organization to represent it at the event — Croucher again won his age group in 2:31.01, ninth overall.

“I shared the podium with (female 25-29 winner Katarina Marks), and we were the only age group that an American won both races,” Croucher said. “That was pretty awesome, to represent the USA like that on that type of stage.”

With sponsorship dollars virtually nonexistent for cross triathletes save for the top professionals — much of the funding from USA Triathlon and other sources is allocated to on-road Olympic candidates — Croucher’s pursuits involve many of his own resources. He pays as much as $400 or more in registration fees alone for premiere races.

“Then you’ve got airfare, meals, car rentals, a lot of other stuff,” Croucher said. “The registration for Xterra Worlds, I believe, was $595.”

To make both the ITU and Xterra World Championships feasible this year, Croucher started an online fundraising campaign and gathered contributions from close family and friends.

“Most of the time, it’s a lot of car camping and PB&Js,” Croucher said. “I was really fortunate to have the setups that I did for those events this year.”

As for possibly overworking himself by registering and preparing for both world championship events, Croucher said he simply wanted to maximize his opportunities following last year’s Pan Am victory.

“Most people probably choose one or the other, but who knows when I’ll be in a position to qualify for both again?” Croucher said. “Do I regret doing both because, if I hadn’t done (Xterra Worlds), I might have saved face? No, because, again, I’m grateful for the lessons that I learned.”

A soccer player and swimmer at Dallastown (Pa.) High before swimming at Ithaca, Croucher said he “hated running” but felt an athletic void after graduating. While working as the sports coordinator for the Vail (Colo.) Recreation District, he was race director for a trail race series that first exposed him to off-road competition.

A friend, Jamie Gunion, signed him up for the Xterra Mountain Championship sprint race — 5-mile swim, 9-mile mountain bike, 3-mile run — in Beaver Creek, Colo., in 2013.

“I had no idea what I was doing. I was the only one out there in a Speedo with a 35-pound enduro bike, the wrong kind of bike and about 15 pounds heavier than the cross country race bike I ride now,” Croucher recalled. “But when I finished, I saw there was only five minutes separating me from the winner, and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could figure this out.’ It didn’t take long to catch the bug.”

Croucher has now done about 40 off-road triathlons, the bib tags of which decorate the walls of his office. When top-level Xterra and ITU events aren’t on the docket, he pursues an array of lower-tier competitions across New England and the East Coast.

“I love off-road stuff because it’s man versus nature,” he said. “There are a lot of really technical courses, where you can’t take your eyes off the trail for a second or you’re going to be flipping over your handlebars — something I’ve done plenty of times.”

A Fayston, Vt., resident, Croucher’s home abuts Camel’s Hump State Park and he regularly runs there to train, convincing Ferreri to join him on Sunday runs through the woods to nearby Waitsfield for brunch.

As Randolph AD, he urges students to take advantage of their natural surroundings whenever possible.

“I might go running for 1½ hours in the park and only see 10 people, which is amazing to me,” Croucher said. “I’d like to see more people getting outside and enjoying the world around them. There’s no reason anyone should be on a treadmill past April.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.