Sophie Brandwene - Warwick senior triathlete

Warwick senior Sophie Brandwene, at Speedwell Forge Lake in Warwick Twp. Wednesday Nov. 10, 2021.

Sophie Brandwene was 11 years old when she competed in the 100-meter dash for the first time. She finished last in every race that season.

All along, Sophie’s father, Josh Brandwene, insisted his daughter wasn’t a sprinter. After finishing last again in the final race of the season, Sophie sat next to her dad on the bleachers and admitted, “Dad, I think you’re right.”

The next day, Sophie went to an outdoor pool, which happened to be a host site of a kids triathlon. The competitors were put into two age groups: 10-and-under, and 18-and under. Sophie got put in the older group. An 11-year-old competing against 18-year-olds. Sophie was among the top finishers.

Afterward, Sophie told her dad, “I found my sport.”

Now a senior at Warwick High School, Sophie recently committed to NCAA Division II Drury University in Missouri, where she’ll compete in triathlon and study mathematics.

“I just really love the sport,” Sophie said. “I’m passionate about what I do.”

In 2014, USA Triathlon got enough colleges to sign on in getting women’s triathlon to be considered an emerging sport. From that point, at least 40 schools need to officially sponsor women’s triathlon as a varsity sport by 2024 in order for it to fall under the banner of the NCAA. To date, thirty-seven colleges or universities have added women’s triathlon, which is still technically governed by USA Triathlon.

Drury is one of them.

“I really found a hidden gem in Drury,” Sophie said.

Sophie, 17, competes in cross country and swimming for Warwick. Though, she admits she treats those sports more as supplements to her training regimen for triathlon - the triathlon season is mostly in the spring and summer months.

Born in Michigan, Sophie and her parents lived in Connecticut, Massachusetts and State College, Pennsylvania, before they moved to Lancaster County in 2018. 

Sophie’s parents met while students at Penn State in the early 1990s. Leona Brandwene now works for the University of Pennsylvania, while Josh Brandwene has spent the last 30 years as an ice hockey coach. Josh Brandwene was the first coach of the Penn State women’s ice hockey team for five seasons before being named the inaugural Alvernia women’s ice hockey coach in 2018.

Asked of their influence on their daughter in the classroom and in triathlon, Leona noted her work in “applied positive psychology” in “embracing a growth mindset,” while Josh has aided in his experience as a coach.

“But the credit for the nuts and bolts of triathlon goes to Christy Lausch,” Josh Brandwene said.

Named the USA Triathlon Development Coach of the Year in 2018, Lausch is a founder and head coach of MC Elite, a triathlon group for college-level and younger athletes based in Maryland. Sophie joined MC Elite in 2017.

“Sophie has been one of those athletes who stands out in terms of her commitment,” Lausch said.

On average, Sophie estimates she has competed in about five triathlons per year for the last five years. She has qualified for a USA Triathlon national race for her age group three times over the last four years. Of those national races, the most formative for Sophie came in 2018, when another rider bumped her bike in the transition portion of the race from the swim to the bike.

“The chain bent,” Sophie recalled. “It took the mechanic almost eight minutes to fix it.”

“Another athlete would have said, ‘the race is over, I’m not going to continue,’” Lausch said. “She wanted to continue. ...that says a lot about her.”

Sophie finished the race, and learned a valuable lesson: “That really taught me going through challenging stuff can make you stronger.”

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