By Jenny Neyman
“They say the best thing you can do to exercise your heart is reach out to people. If that’s the case, this event is nothing but heart,” said Greg Russell, co-director of the Tri-the-Kenai triathlon held Sunday at Skyview High School in Soldotna.
Pounding-from-exertion heart for the 200-plus racers who gave it their all, perhaps. But heart, nonetheless.
“They should change the name to tri-hill-a-thon,” said Yvonne Henrickson, of Anchorage. She and Mona Bremont heard about Tri-the-Kenai while doing the Gold Nugget Triathlon in Anchorage in May, and decided to put their training through another round of use by competing in the Kenai Peninsula event.
“It’s a great triathlon, really homey,” Bremont said.
Word has spread about the Tri-the-Kenai, with 210 participants this year compared to 131 in last year’s inaugural event. Henrickson and Bremont said they just wished they’d also heard about the hills on the biking and running routes.
“We didn’t get a chance to come out and try the course beforehand,” Henrickson
“That was some hill,” Bremont added.
“Whoa, Nellie,” seconded Henrickson.
In the adult race, swimmers completed 500 meters in the Skyview pool and hopped on their bikes to make a 10-mile loop southwest along the Sterling Highway, up and down Echo Lake Road to Gaswell Road, taking Kalifornsky Beach Road to the Sterling Highway and up the steep climb to get back to Skyview. Once they ditched their bikes, racers faced a five-kilometer run through the hilly Tsalteshi Ski Trails behind the school. In the youth events, the 5- to 9-year olds completed a three-kilometer bike and two-kilometer run, while the 10- to 14-year-olds completed a four-kilometer bike and three-kilometer run.
For Soldotna’s Loren Hollers, who did the bike portion for the winning men’s team, getting up the hills on Echo Lake Road and the Sterling Highway was the most challenging part of the race. But knowing he had two teammates counting on him was all the fuel he needed. He competed with his son, Levi Hollers, who graduated from Skyview in 1999 and had been a successful swimmer in high school. Sarge Truesdell, of Soldotna, blazed Tsalteshi Trails on foot. Hollers had been Truesdell’s wrestling coach when Truesdell became Skyview’s first state-champion wrestler.
“By far and away the greatest thing was doing it with my son,” Hollers said. “And
Sarge, who’s like a son.”
Heather Nash, of Kenai, did exactly what she set out to do: Give the tri everything she had. In the process, she walked away — slowly, perhaps — gaining more from the experience than just a respectable 25th-place finish.
“I did the whole thing and I did absolutely as well as I could have done,” Nash said.
As a newly minted triathlete — having competed in her first ever event in Seward in May — Tri-the-Kenai was next on her list.
“This is close to home, and you see people you know and it’s very well organized, nicely run, so it’s lots of fun,” Nash said.
The hills made the run portion not as nice.
“I’m not used to running on dirt, and, of course, all the nice little hills they have in there. I live in Kenai and Kenai’s flat. I have to run in Nikiski to run on hills,” Nash said.
Still, the challenge made the result all the more meaningful.
“The whole thing was awesome. I did it from beginning to end just as well as I
could do, and I don’t know that I could have any more fun than that,” she said. “Unless somebody can make me into a good runner.”
Nash completed the event solo, but is hoping that next year she’ll have someone to share the experience with her.
“Number-one son may be inspired to do this next year, which is pretty cool,” Nash said of her son, Josh Peck, who is entering Kenai Central High School in the fall. “He’s at the age, my 14-year-old doesn’t think I’m very cool anymore, so it’s kind of nice to win cool points with my kids.”
If he does compete, Breona Delon, of Soldotna, has some advice for him and any other youths who may try their first tri next year: Don’t give up.
Delon competed in the 10- to 14-year-old division, at the suggestion of her grandparents, Russell, co-director, and Jennie Russell, registration coordinator of Tri-the-Kenai.
“I thought, ‘Sure,’ because it sounded really fun and I knew that I should do something for the summer that was really active,” Delon said. “I knew how to do all the things but it was really kind of a struggle for me swimming because I’m not a very good swimmer.”
She ended up in the wrong lane at one point in her swim, a mistake that would cost her time to correct. Though she was tempted to throw in the towel, she didn’t.
“I really wanted to quit at some parts, but I knew that I should keep going. It was
fun to finish and know that you accomplished something, and it didn’t matter if you won or not. You did it, you accomplished your goal,” Delon said.
That’s the spirit Russell, co-director Tony Oliver and the rest of the organizers and volunteers were hoping to foster with the event. It’s a sprint course, shorter than most standard triathlons. But what it lacks in distance, Russell said he hopes it makes up for in heart. So far, so good.
“We’ve got exceptional volunteers, good sponsors and venue, it just lends itself to that kind of event. The feedback that we got from everybody is they were happy about coming back,” Russell said. “Any event will never be 100 percent perfect and I think that the strength of an organization is being able to recover on the fly, because we have good volunteers and they make a big difference.”
He was proud to say the race drew some of the state’s elite athletes this year, including Jens Beck, who won the men’s event in 49 minutes, 34 seconds, ahead of last year’s winner Jason Lamoreaux, with a time of 52:27, and Andrew Duenow in third with a time of 53:23. In the women’s event, Joleen Smith took first in 1:01:02, ahead of Martha Marlow, 1:02:22, and Kelly McCann, 1:03:24.
More impressive to Russell than watching the speed and skill of the winners was the spirit in which even the most competitive racers competed.
“The adults were so supportive of the kids. They cheered for them. They were so supportive. The elites stayed around and answered questions,” Russell said.
The event is designed to give back to the community, with a focus on raising awareness of women’s cancer. Iditarod musher and breast cancer survivor DeeDee Jonrowe participated, placing 43rd in the women’s event. And Jenn Sommermann, 47, of New York, used the Tri-the-Kenai as the Alaska leg in her campaign to complete 50 triathlons in 50 states by the time she’s 50, while raising awareness of ovarian cancer and $100,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. She successfully completed the event, placing 13th out of the women overall, but said the trip was a success even before she picked up her loaner bike from Beemun’s.
While checking in for her rental car at the airport, the clerk told Sommermann about a 25-year-old co-worker who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“So I imparted what I know and I thought to myself, ‘I could leave now and this has been a successful weekend,’” Sommermann said.
She started her quest two years ago, after recovering from a bout of ovarian cancer in 2007. While in the hospital she saw a magazine spread on thr
ee triathlons held to benefit ovarian cancer research and vowed to compete in them when she got better. She did, and realized she could expand that experience into a nationwide campaign to raise money and awareness.
“I did those three races and I realized I had this opportunity to pass the message. I was late-stage cancer so I shouldn’t be alive, and I have to believe I was spared for a reason. I have an obligation to live large,” she said. “It’s become more of a grassroots effort of talking to women one on one about ovarian cancer. There’s no method of early detection so women need the information about signs and symptoms.”
Sommermann credits triathlons with saving her life. She did her first at age 40, at
the suggestion of a friend. She’d never done athletics before, but found herself hooked on triathlons and, consequently, more tuned in to her body. That allowed her to notice something was off. Otherwise, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect — bloating, fatigue, indigestion and weight gain lasting more than two weeks.
“My best friend in Seattle called me and said, ‘We’re turning 40, we need to do a triathlon.’ I was like, ‘All right,’” Sommermann said. “It was a blast. She checked it off her list, ‘OK, I don’t need to do another one.’ I am now completely obsessed. But the sport saved my life. If I hadn’t been so keenly aware of my body I don’t think I would have noticed (her cancer symptoms).”
Her nationwide campaign is self-funded. She works four jobs to pay for travel, lodging and all the other expenses she incurs, so that every dollar raised through donations goes to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. She squeezes in events whenever and wherever she can, shooting for one a weekend or every other weekend throughout the summer triathlon season. Alaska marked her halfway point of 25 states, having come from one in Georgia and leaving for one in North Dakota. She’s also about halfway to her fundraising goal. Tri-the-Kenai presented her with $1,000, $500 from the event and $500 from donations from participants, taking her to $49,000. She’s planning to complete her “50x50x100” campaign in two more years.
That’s a long road yet, but hanging in there and pushing for the finish is nothing new to Sommermann.
“Cancer is an endurance sport, there’s no doubt about it. Triathlons prepared me to beat cancer, without a doubt. It is not a sprint. You’ve just got to be in it for the long haul,” she said.
Not unlike triathlons. Fighting cancer and conducting her awareness campaign have a few other similarities with triathlons — she’s found support and inspiration from family, friends and even the complete strangers she meets.
“It’s competition but until it’s all over you never really know how you did, so you’ve just got to do your thing and hope for the best,” she said of the races. “The people that I race with are among the biggest heroes that I’ve ever met in my life. People that are not necessarily fit, people that want to change their life, that are motivated to just do something bigger than themselves. These are the heroes.”
Sunday at Skyview High School. 500-meter swim, 10-mile bike, five-kilometer run.
1. Jens Beck, 49 minutes, 34 seconds; 2. Jason Lamoreaux, 52:27; 3. Andrew Duenow, 53:23; 4. Luke Kiskaddon, 56:12; 5. Mick Bakker, 58:58; 6. Brad Benter, 1:00:28; 7. Lee Helzer, 1:00:41; 8. Keith MacPhail, 1:04:36; 9. Joe Anders, 1:04:57; 10. Ted Donat, 1:06:54; 11. Daniel Beiswenger, 1:08:05; 12. Robert Smith, 1:08:13; 13. Bob Ulbrich, 1:08:47; 14. Ken Fitzgerald, 1:11:17; 15. Daniel McElroy, 1:11:28; 16. Jamie Dittrich, 1:11:58; 17. Joe McElroy, 1:12:52; 18. Walter Ward, 1:13:18; 19. Jesse Tapley, 1:14:10; 20. Jeff Miller, 1:14:26; 21. Jason Moore, 1:14:28; 22. Ryan Hoffman, 1:14:47; 23. Lawrence Sauer, 1:15:56; 24. David Martin, 1:17:02; 25. James Tapley, 1:17:32; 26. Matt Spence, 1:17:54; 27. Adam Anders, 1:18:03; 28. David Beiswenger, 1:23:08; 29. Robert Rurka, 1:24:04; 30. Scott Huff, 1:24:27; 31. Ross Sorenson, 1:26:51; 32. Dustin Skelton, 1:29:02; 33. George Jedlicka, 1:29:18; 34. John Sanborn, 1:31:55; 35. Ben Toungue, 1:35:46; 36. Wade Strickland, 1:37:09; 37. Tobin Brennan, 1:38:39; 38. Corey Morgan, 1:40:32; 39. Domenic Cordle, 1:46:25; 40. Stephen Hart, 2:03:06.
1. Joleen Smith, 1 hour, 1 minute, 2 seconds; 2. Martha Marlow, 1:02:22; 3. Kelly McCann, 1:03:24; 4. Lori Manion, 1:04:47; 5. Alisa Kincaid, 1:05:27; 6. Katy Rosane, 1:05:29; 7. Meaghan Kuklok, 1:06:15; 8. Cory Lehl, 1:08:12; 9. Diana Burbank, 1:10:06; 10. Kathleen Buss, 1:10:43; 11. Theresa Chihuly, 1:11:06; 12. Richell Carmichael, 1:14:26; 13. Jenn Sommermann, 1:14:34; 14. Tracy Pitts, 1:14:37; 15. Kristin Morrow, 1:15:15; 16. Annie Ridgely, 1:15:49; 17. Catie Coursen, 1:15:57; 18. Barb Baysinger, 1:16:23; 19. Oralee Nudson, 1:16:34; 20. Alice Anderson, 1:19:29; 21. Pamela Winders, 1:20:30; 22. Cassady Marshall, 1:20:41; 23. Yvonne Henrickson, 1:20:50; 24. Nicki Schmitt, 1:21:16; 25. Heather Nash, 1:21:29; 26. Michelle Quinton, 1:21:53; 27. Mona Bremont, 1:22:47; 28. Janet Phelps, 1:23:24; 29. Kristin Hynne, 1:23:38; 30. Wendy Newman, 1:23:54; 31. Tara Kulin, 1:24:05; 32. Chelsea Springer, 1:24:29; 33. Terri Springer, 1:24:44; 34. Katharine Tongue, 1:24:54; 35. Anna Boutwell, 1:26:03; 36. Kelsey Tranel, 1:26:04; 37. Tawnya Roberts, 1:26:11; 38. Tamara Miller, 1:27:16; 39. Regina Daniels, 1:27:27; 40. Nadia Anders, 1:28:14; 41. Julie Laker, 1:29:15; 42. Juliet Bramante, 1:29:47; 43. DeeDee Jonrowe, 1:30:41; 44. Cassie Collins, 1:31:55; 45. Laura Asbell, 1:32:15; 46. Kelly Luck, 1:32:16; 47. Samantha Schloesser, 1:32:38; 48. Jennifer Hronkin, 1:33:57; 49. Tammy Strausbaugh, 1:34:20; 50. Lisa Renken, 1:34:22; 51. Gina Pollard, 1:35:23; 52. Susan Reeves, 1:35:55; 53. Amanda Hillis, 1:36:39; 54. Julie Kane, 1:38:37; 55. Rachel Kastner, 1:38:54; 56. Jennifer Strauss, 1:38:59; 57. Esther Hamilton, 1:39:35; 58. Charla Lee, 1:42:45; 59. Naomi Barker, 1:42:51; 60. Christy Hronkin, 1:48:05; 61. Jennifer Quimby, 1:48:10; 62. Ruth Sensenig, 1:54:56; 63. Jennifer Watkins, 1:57:25; 64. Jennifer Gilhuly, 2:00:28; 65. Nyla Lightcap, 2:04:56; 66. Dana Fraley, 2:05:15; 67. Yvonne Oren, 2:24:22.
Three-kilometer bike, two-kilometer run
Boys ages 5-9
1. Gabe Bruno, 31 minutes, 11 seconds; 2. Aiden Huff, 38:40; Camden Benter, 41:18.
Girls ages 5-9
1. Journey Miller, 33 minutes, 33 seconds; 2. Grace Morrow, 34:43; 3. Emma Snyder, 35:29; 4. Grace McElroy, 36:01; 5. Riley Reese, 37:10; 6. Sadie Benter, 37:11; 7. Anya Danielson, 38:09; 8. Madison Snyder, 40:21; 9. Katelynn Best, 42:23; 10. Magnolia Howe, 48:46; 11. Rileigh Pace, 49:13.
4-kilometer bike, three-kilometer run
Boys ages 10-14
1. Sam McElroy, 33 minutes, 46 seconds; 2. Justin Ellison, 35:56; 3. Karl Danielson, 37:46; 4. Tanner Best, 38:51; 5. Jeremy Kupferschmid, 40:00; 6. Adam Trujillo, 42:08; 7. Daniel Boatright, 43:12; 8. Hunter Reese, 44:40; 9. Matthew Minium, 48:46; 10. Gideon Colliver, 52:43; 11. Billy Morrow, 59:48.
Girls ages 10-14
1. Aimee Schmitt, 38 minutes, 55 seconds; 2. Madeline White, 39:26; 3. Abigail Luck, 40:17; 4. Ina Allen, 40:17; 5. Savannah Clark, 42:09; 6. May Bruno, 44:21; 7. Olivia Brewer, 44:25; 8. Claire McElroy, 45:20; 9. Elena Bramente, 46:59; 10. Kaitlynn Boyer, 47:07; 11. Mimi Allen, 47:08; 12. Courtney Barker, 48:17; 13. Matthea Boatright, 49:12; 14. Breona Delon, 50:39; 15. Emma Luck, 51:04.
1. Peninsula Madmen, 1 hour, 3 minutes, 4 seconds; 2. AK Ladies, 1:10:58.7; 3. Our First Tri, 1:13:07.6; 4. Dameles in Destress, 1:17:55.4; 5. Blackard, 1:24:54.8; 6. River Center Trio, 1:25:05.9; 7. Tri-Stars; 1:26:09.1; 8. Supervova, 1:27:50.3; 9. Tea, 1:29:31.8; 10. The Finishers, 1:46:40.0.