CLEARWATER — Lucas Caron is the first to admit you can't be a successful triathlete without having a good bit of talent. But, he insists, there is something else that separates the haves from the have-nots.
And it has nothing to do with God-given skill.
"This sport is so much about who works the hardest," Caron said. "For the most part, the best people are really whoever works at it the most."
If true, that would seem to favor Caron.
A 17-year-old Palm Harbor University senior who will compete in Sunday's fourth annual Morton Plant Mease Triathlon at Sand Key Park, Caron admittedly is consumed with the sport. He trains 20 to 25 hours a week year round, and when he isn't training he's thinking about it.
"I love it," Caron said. "Twenty-four seven, it's all about triathlons."
That focus has paid dividends.
USA Triathlon ranks Caron as the fifth-best triathlete nationally in his age division and has given him All-American status, which is particularly impressive considering he's still a relative newcomer to the sport.
"He's done very well in a short space of time," said Caron's coach, two-time International Triathlon Union world champion Spencer Smith, who lives in Palm Harbor.
Caron competed in his first triathlon two years ago at Fort De Soto Park at the suggestion of a teacher. Although he wasn't much of a swimmer, he placed 189th out of about 1,100 competitors and was hooked.
"I got the bug," Caron said. "I remember watching the guy who won. He was about my age now. I was like, 'That would be pretty cool to come out with the adults and beat them all.'?"
Determined to improve, Caron, who grew up playing football, pinpointed his weaknesses and went to work. Biking and running, which comprise two-thirds of a triathlon, came relatively easy. Swimming, the event's other portion, didn't, so that's where his focus went.
"I was pretty average," Caron said.
A training regimen whereby Caron spends about 50 percent of his training time in the water has helped him become reasonably balanced.
"Swimming was always my weakest event," Caron said. "I had to work harder."
Caron's first overall title came earlier this year in Crystal River. In May, he placed second to Smith in a Madeira Beach event.
"He has come a long way," Smith said. "You've got to have passion in this sport, or any sport, and right now I see the passion."
Caron has big goals, to say the least.
Making the Olympics is one aspiration. Turning professional (top triathletes can make six figures or more annually) is another.
"I've always been competitive," Caron said. "I always want to be at the top. Where I finish is never good enough for where I want to be."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4156.