Seeing the world, five events at a time

In mid-April former Mercer Island resident Rendy Lynn Opdycke went for a swim in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy. For this outdoor enthusiast with a passion for getting in the surf, the open water swim was a welcome break from her very busy schedule.

Opdycke wasn’t in Italy on vacation, and neither was her trip to Mexico weeks before a chance to lay in the sun. For this pentathlete, traveling around the world is sprinkled in between her many training sessions and life outside the sport.

Opdycke stumbled onto pentathlons almost by accident, she said. Most who get into the sport do, she said. Opdycke found it in a sports book she was reading, was intrigued and well, the rest, at least for the last year, has been history.

A 2002 graduate of Mercer Island High School, Opdycke went to the University of San Diego and onto USC, always looking for ways to be outside and staying active. Now she spends her time training for any of the five events she must master on the World Cup circuit.

Modern pentathlons include shooting, swimming, horse jumping, running and fencing. None of those are events people generally pair together outside the sport. Each requires vastly different training and often the ability to pick up new skills on the fly. Opdycke did say she’s found the jumping and fencing to be two of the more difficult to pick up.

“Jumping has been the most challenging for me,” she said. “To be a true horseman it takes years, and I’ve had a crash course over the last year. It’s just a completely different world. The same with fencing — it’s a different language as well.”

After just a year of former and steady training, Opdycke has found her way into the World Cup circuit, traveling with the U.S. Team to events in Mexico City, Italy, and most recently, Budapest. On the horizon are China, Panama, England, depending on how she does.

Most recently, at the event in Italy, Opdycke said it was challenging because a lot of former female Olympians came out of retirement for the event.

“There was a historic number of women who came out,” she said. “There was pretty stiff competition.” Seventeen former Olympic pentathletes competed in the semifinals.

“It was like going to the Olympics for me, in some respects,” she said of the level of competition. “It was definitely an education of where I am and what I need to work on.”

While she may be jetting around the globe now, Opdycke never expected this was where she’d be a year ago.

“I certainly didn’t expect to be traveling to this many World Cups,” she said of back when she first started. Pentathlons have a wide-ranging format, sometimes with an event a day, or back to back, with a break to travel between locations. To prepare, Opdycke said she tries to run through a simulation of all the events, except jumping, at least three times a week. She’ll hit the ground for some running, fence, hit the range to practice on the air pistol and swim.

“I had no idea what this would be,” she said. “I read about it in a book and it’s just been a snowball effect.”

While many members of the U.S. Team practice at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Opdycke has opted to stay in California to train, largely because of finances. It’s expensive, she said, to move and train at the OTC full time. Staying in California allows her to continue working as a swim coach for Mater Dei High School, coaching both the men’s and women’s teams. Last week, after having returned from the trip to Italy days before, she was preparing the team for a big meet against their arch rival.

“Kind of like Mercer Island against Bellevue,” she said of the stakes. “It’s a big meet.”

If having the time and energy to train and work takes a lot of work, then financing that time to train, and the other costs that come with it can be just as challenging. Opdycke said the most expensive part is typically the horse jumping, because of the fees associated with keeping a horse, or leasing one, along with fencing. She said she’s gotten support from a variety of places, but is always looking for more. She said her shooting range, where a former Olympian shoots, has covered her costs for the range, for which she’s very thankful.

“If someone was interested in helping, I’d be very grateful,” she said.

In all of this traveling, training and working, how does she keep things straight?

“By being really flexible,” said Opdycke with a chuckle. Unlike many sports, with a defined season in the year, Opdycke quickly learned that pentathlon doesn’t exactly have a beginning and end date.

“This sport never seems to have down season,” she said. “You just get a phone call saying hey, we’d like you to be here on this day and compete. It’s year-round, and I didn’t expect that.” She attended four or five events between the months of November and February, what she expected to be an off time for most of her events. But no matter for Opdycke, who’s jumped into the event whole-heartedly, unsure at this point where it will take her. The Olympic selection process for the 2012 Games in London will begin soon, but Opdycke said it’s more about hitting the right numbers and finishing in a certain place. “We’ll see; if I become an Olympian, that’s great — right now I’m just enjoying it,” she said.

After just over a week of being home, Opdycke jetted off for the World Cup event in Budapest, Hungary, which begins May 4.

Photo courtesy of Selena Frederick, Cheval Photos

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