University of Denver Fields a New Division One Women's Triathlon Team

University of Denver Fields a  New Division One Women's Triathlon Team

A new Division One women's varsity triathlon team is emerging in Colorado. And we couldn't be more excited for the team, the sport, and frankly, for ourselves as we support and encourage this team to be the best in their division.


Last week we had a chance to talk with Coach Barbara Perkins about the exciting news that the University of Denver (DU) wilUniv of Denver Logol field a Division 1 women's varsity triathlete team this academic year. Her obvious love of the sport and her clear passion for developing and supporting youth athletes came through the phone loud and clear.  So we wanted to take a few moments and introduce this new team.  


The USA Triathlon Foundation Women's Emerging Sport Grant is awarded to successful applicants for NCAA membership institutions to develop, implement, and sustain women's triathlon programs at the varsity level. And DU received one of those grants in July.

“The addition of the University of Denver to the women’s collegiate triathlon family is groundbreaking for several reasons,” said Rocky Harris, USA Triathlon CEO.

“Colorado is one of the nation’s thriving triathlon hubs. With DU's prestigious academic reputation, and as the first Division I program in the state to add the sport, the school is sure to attract top student-athletes and become a force on the national stage.”


37 schools in the US are currently fielding women's triathlon teams, and DU is just the 9th Div 1 school to do this. While the grant was applied for before the global pandemic, it was awarded after the close of the school year and after students had already left campus.  Even so, DU went for it.

“The University of Denver," says Perkins, "is the perfect place to start a triathlon program; triathletes will have the advantage of training at altitude and training year-round at some of the best facilities in the world."

Perkins plans to initially build a team of four women, the minimum needed to field a team. This strategic decision allows her and the team to build a strong foundation. 

"It will be very rewarding to lead a new generation of athletes," says Perkins, "and to and develop their skills and enhance their mindsets in a way that will give them endless opportunities.”


Perkins is not new to the world of triathletes. Nor is she new to building a new team from scratch.  She was a two-time captain of her college water polo team at St. Mary's and went on to coach collegiate swim teams including building programs from scratch at a previous athletic program. 

Today, she is an accomplished competitor who is well able to coach the Denver team. 

She has previously coached at Air Force, Indiana University, Kean University, Montclair State University, and Greenwich Academy as well as being an assistant swim coach with the University of Denver over the past year.

While at the Air Force, Perkins developed conditioning and training programs for both distance and sprint groups.  She previously coached at Keen University, Indiana, Greenwich Academy, and Montclair State University.  

As for her personal, out-of-school performance, she's been an active triathlete for about a decade, earning her place among great racers like Angela Naeth.




  • Finished the 2019 season ranked 30th in the world and ninth in the U.S. for her age group in IRONMAN’s All-World Rankings. 
  • A two-time IRONMAN KONA World Championship finisher
  • A six-time IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship qualifier.

One of the fun parts of our conversation with Coach Barbara was her frank assessment of the TRI community. "Anywhere I go, I have a built-in community. We. help each other, welcome each other, and support each other."


We can all agree, I think it is safe to say, sports are good for people - regardless of gender. But research consistently shows us that if a girl is not participating in sports by the age of 10, the likelihood of them participating later in life is slim. Plus dropouts are also two times higher for girls than boys in almost every sport. 

Women lose the benefits of sports - leadership, relationships, confidence - when they are not playing. It's as simple as that.  For women professional athletes, this often translates to fewer competitive spots, less sponsorship money, and lower salaries.  

To get women in sports, we need to get girls in sports and keep them in through their adolescent and young adult years. And this means we need programs for girls and young women, and girls and young women need mentors, role models, and heroes that look like them.  Programs just like the one Perkins is leading.

When young women work to hone their competitive and physical skills in a supportive and safe environment, they learn resilience, teamwork, compassion, and how to both win and lose gracefully in life. They gain relationships and social skills. They gain confidence and become leaders in their communities and in their families.  

WELCOME, DU TRI WOMEN.  We're here to support you in any way and look forward to being inspired by you.  


DU is not the first Colorado school to field a triathlon team. Colorado Mesa University also fields a team and shares some of the value and experience they've gained in this YouTube video. It's a moving and inspiring view into the world of NCAA women's varsity Tri.




Val Sanford

Val Sanford 

Growing up in Southern California, Val played competitive softball (coached by her father), was a gymnast, swimmer, ran cross country, fished, hiked, kayaked, and as an adult, experimented in rock climbing and golf. In 2010 she was diagnosed with a rare cancer; a liposarcoma was growing on her sciatic nerve. Once this tumor was removed, she has been cancer-free!

Left with significant nerve damage, she now has limited mobility. Yet still moves and engages in the world around her. She snorkels, walks, travels, and practices yoga to combat chronic pain and to maximize her ability to keep moving. She works with a personal trainer, acupuncturist, physical therapist, and massage therapist to maximize her mobility.

She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and her dog and gets her fins on so she can swim with the fish any time she can.  

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