Athletes were cheered on by family members and fellow triathlon enthusiasts as they traversed the sixth annual Tri-The-Kenai Triathlon in Soldotna on Sunday.
Created by Director Tony Oliver and Co-Founder Greg Russell, the race includes intermediate, sprint and youth divisions and continues to draw numerous athletes from around the state. This year, Oliver said there were 36 individual participants registered for the intermediate course, 101 for the spring and 34 for the youth division. There were 12 adult teams and one youth team.
In all, 183 participants competed for the top overall spots and awards within their age groups on Sunday. Money from registration fees and a raffle at the event goes to a different charity each year, Oliver said.
This year, he estimated between $1,000 and $2,000 will go to the Autism Society of Alaska.
“I like to keep it local,” Oliver said. “I like to affect people who live in my community.”
Athletes began with the swimming portion of the race at the Skyview Middle School in Soldotna before moving on to the bike section on Sterling Highway, and finishing with a run through the Tsalteshi Trails near the middle school.
For Oliver, Tri-The-Kenai was about more than friendly competition. Creating the race began in2003 when he made a dramatic life change – he quit smoking, lost a significant amount of weight and began competing in triathlon. He has completed close to 60 today. Oliver and Russell took advantage of the lack of a triathlon on the Kenai Peninsula to create Tri-The-Kenai, and he said the event and sport are ever-growing.
“I was almost 300 pounds,” Oliver said. “Once you do a triathlon, you either love or you hate it. There’s just a sense of accomplishment.”
Each year, the athletes with the top completion times from the previous year are scheduled to begin first. The youth athletes began racing at 8 a.m., followed by the top twelve women and men at 10 a.m.
Lori Deschamps, of Anchorage, took first place overall for the women in the sprint division with a time of 59:43. She said her family makes the trip every year and spends plenty of time on the peninsula in summer. As an athlete who competes in events around the country, Deschamps said Tri-The-Kenai is one of the most enjoyable and well-organized races she has participated in.
“I love this one, because it starts at a time when it’s warm,” she said. “I love the run in the woods. I just love being alone in the woods, regardless of me chasing somebody.”
Luke Kiskaddon, who took second in the sprint category for the men with a time of 57:56, also enjoyed the portion of the triathlon that went through the Tsalteshi Trails.
“It’s the only race that I know of where I can go on a road bike and a trail run, which is a really great combo,” the Anchorage native said. “It’s a really well-run event. This is one of my favorite triathlon anywhere, (and) I race all over the U.S. It’s just a really cool vibe.”
Both athletes said they plan on returning to Tri-The-Kenai in the future.
Next year, Oliver said he plans to add a separate division for older youth, as well as a team division for the intermediate race, which was added to the event last year. The event was sponsored by Skinny Ravens Events and Timing, the Central Peninsula Hospital, Beemun’s Bike and Ski Loft, Mad2 and others. Central Emergency Services members were standing by in case of emergency throughout the event.