May 27, 2011 11:12 PM

Andi Garcia-Brown had been bicycling for three years before she decided she wanted to enter a triathlon.

Not exactly an experienced swimmer, it took her a week of training in the water before she was a champion.

Garcia-Brown won the girls 13-15 year-old division of the Tempe International Triathlon earlier this month. She finished the 400-meter swim in the Tempe town lake, a 12.5 mile bike ride and 3.2 mile run in 1 hour, 31 minutes, 14 seconds. The time would have put the Kofa freshman in second place in the 16-19 age group, less than four minutes behind its winner.

Considering she doesn't feel she's a strong runner because of a lifelong battle with asthma, Garcia-Brown said she was thrilled with the results.

“I didn't really know what to expect,” Garcia-Brown said. “I was just sitting their in that cold water with other kids who really didn't know what to do either.”

An entrant in the 12 and under boys division, Liam Kovatch, provided some inspiration through the hard parts.

“I had met him while we were swimming,” Garcia-Brown said. “He couldn't breathe because it was his first time doing a triathlon, too. He just caught up to me and talked to me. I have really bad asthma, so it's hard to do stuff. Usually I just kind of walk it, jog it. But this time I was actually passing older people. I was proud of myself.”

Garcia-Brown said she's been competing in sports since she could walk. She's played soccer, basketball, softball and track.

“I've never been a girly-girl,” Garica-Brown said. “I've always had to be out there with the guys trying to prove myself. It's my life right now.”

She does not compete on any school teams for Kofa, saying the bike club keeps her busy.

While she said she has in interest in swimming for the Kings next year, don't expect her to try out for cross country. She said it was the running that was the most difficult. She finished her 5K in 31:18.

“The swimming was easy with all the other people cause the adult males came up behind us and just trample on over you,” Garcia-Brown said. “But the running part, it takes a lot of dedication to keep on going.”

Aside from the trampling and the cold, Garcia-Brown said she enjoyed the swim. Yuma Bike Club president Nancy Vega said the swim training was short and effective.

“I strapped a harness to her ankles and said ‘Swim,'” Vega said. “I got her face in the water and taught her to relax.

“It helped a lot cause she had these bungee cords strapped to my ankles and it was like tension,” Garcia-Brown said. “It was like resistance training in the water. So once I got in the lake I did pretty good. Twelve minutes.”

Garcia-Brown was the first YBC member in its three-year history to represent the club in a triathlon. Vega said she's working with the Yuma Heat swim team and coach Martin Reichgott about some coaching swaps, where Heat coaches teach swimming to the bike kids and bike club coaches teach cycling to the swimmers.

It's all part of a plan to drum up local support for competing in triathlons.

“After Andi, she shows that there are more kids out there who have the capability of doing triathlon,” Vega said. “She started out saying she had some interest in it, and I pushed her a little bit, but she took charge. She took it and ran with it.”

Garcia-Brown said other teens her age should give it a go.

“This is an amazing thing,” Garcia-Brown said. “People don't realize it, but you can get scholarships. You meet new people from all over. You make connections and it's stuff that won't break.”

The bike club is planning a triathlon for later this summer to be hosted in Yuma. Details are still not hammered out, Vega said. She expects the swim to take place in a pool, likely at Arizona Western or the Valley Aquatic Center. The bike and running courses will be determined based on the swim site.

Vega said the that anyone interested in competing in triathlons, or other bike club-related events, should go to www.yumabikeclub.org.

Vega said she just wanted Garcia-Brown to get see what a triathlon was like as she prepared for more down the road.

“She's superb,” Vega said. “She's got talents we're just starting to find out about.”