Chris Omerza, ’12, is devoting a sizable chunk of his summer to science. As a participant in Albion College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA), the biochemistry major is trying to determine which groups of electrons should be used to maximize magnetic interactions.

When Omerza does get out of the lab, however, it’s often not for rest and relaxation. Rather, he is most likely training for the Sept. 11 Ironman event in Madison, Wis. Omerza, who completed the Racing for Recovery half-Ironman in Monroe on June 5, will be joined in the Wisconsin race by Luke Holly, ’12. Omerza and Holly will be tested by a 2.4-mile swim on Lake Monona, a 112-mile bike ride that includes two 40-mile loops through rural Dane County, and a 26.2-mile marathon through downtown Madison streets and the University of Wisconsin campus.

Omerza, who hails from Honor and graduated from Leelanau High School, became Holly’s roommate during their sophomore year after Holly’s original roommate joined a fraternity. The two met during their first semester at Albion and made the decision to pursue an Ironman event and become training partners. Despite training together while participating in FURSCA last summer, the timing of registration forced them to wait for this year to actually begin competition.

“Luke had randomly mentioned that his life goal was to complete an Ironman by the time he was 25 years old,” Omerza said. “We tried to do it last summer, but we found that all of the races for the summer of 2010 were closed because registration typically closes 364 days before the event.”

Holly’s training was made more difficult by a challenging academic load during the 2011 spring semester. The biology and economics and management double major from Cadillac, who is also active in the Chapel and Campus Crusade leadership teams and serves as treasurer of the hockey club, devoted the bulk of his time to studying for the Medical College Admission Test, which forced him to reassess his original performance goal.

“My training suffered a bit, but studies come first,” Holly said. “I had made a goal of finishing in less than 12 hours. I have let go of the time goal and I’m just going to finish the race and take that as an accomplishment.

“The [December-January] break between fall and winter semesters was the best [training] time for me,” Holly added. “Training didn’t have to compete with all of the things I’m involved in.”

Omerza, meanwhile, was 21st in a field of 150 individuals to complete the Monroe event. His time of 5 hours, 5 minutes has placed him in the category he calls “competitive hobbyists,” and he has established a long-term goal of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

“Qualification in the World Championship is based on your rank and the number of competitors in your age group,” Omerza said.

The Tie That Binds
For Omerza and Holly, rising early is a prerequisite for carving training time into their schedules. Holly said he wakes at 5 a.m. to get his running in before heading to his full-time summer job; he completes his biking or swimming session in the evening.

“I try to do each sport four days a week with each sport having its own long day,” Holly said. “By the max portion of training I’ll be doing bike rides of 40 miles, with 60-80 miles on the long days, runs averaging eight miles, with longer runs up to 15 miles, and the swimming distance depends on what I’m doing [with the other two sports].”

Omerza added, “I get up early and do homework in every five- and 10-minute time shot I have. I’m never sitting around doing nothing.”

Omerza and Holly were not roommates during the 2010-2011 academic year, so a heavy-sleeping roommate is crucial during the winter months. Omerza said that while he can run outdoors in a T-shirt in the cold, biking is done on a trainer in his room. To pass the time while pedaling, he has watched every episode of Dexter available on DVD and has lost count of the number of movies he has seen.

“I would get up at 7 or 8 on Saturday and I could ride to noon or 1 o’clock and my roommate could sleep through it,” Omerza said. “Biking inside really stinks.”

‘Legendary’ Runs to the Grocery Store
Nutrition is just as important as the physical training, and Omerza and Holly report a diet high in carbohydrates and protein.

“We buy as much chicken as Sam’s Club will let us,” Omerza joked.

Holly added, “I’ve always been a big eater, but we have had some legendary Sam’s Club runs for chicken and pasta.”