A different way to complete a tri

By Dana Stetson


On May 11th the 20th edition of the Gulf Coast Triathlon (GCT) was held. Conditions were near perfect with the exception of that ever zany, overheated death march from hell, 13.1 mile run at the end.

Tallahassean triathletes reserve this race as a very important litmus test of fitness. This is the race that can get your lane changed in swimming, get your locker at the gym moved up a row, and make you a star at the track if you do well enough! The world’s expert on this race has to be our own Richard Baker. He has competed in 16 of the 20 GCT’s for a total of 19.2 miles swimming, 896 miles biking, and 209.6 miles running on this course.

This year I was at GCT as a guide for PC triathlete David Bigoney. Sort of a seeing eye dog that can also pedal and run. Racing with David, you tend to see a slightly different race than everyone else. We started first in the swim and were entirely alone for most of the distance, except for our personal kayak man and the TV crew in the boat next to us.

The swim conditions were perfect. The weather was clear, no waves, and no real strong currents. When you race with David a lot of things are different. When he popped out of the water, the crowd went wild. It’s easy to forget how inspiring he is to people when you know him as an everyday person. The bike course is long, hot, and boring unless you’re some sort of pine tree or dead possum scientist. The only fun hill on the bike course is a bridge that you cross twice on the out and back, and you can see every biker, and judge your relative position.

Because there was only one tandem in this race, David was easily recognized and was cheered throughout the course. A lot of people would slow down while passing just long enough to say something.

The switch from the bike to the run is where most people finally had to face the heat and humidity. The ocean breeze probably saved most people. Water tables were very popular and some local citizens turned on their sprinklers. Even with all that, it was barely enough.

Almost everyone suffered greatly due to the heat. The people around us throughout the run were showing great courage under bad conditions. The behavior of the average triathlete in these conditions usually shows the good side of humans. There is a lot of graveyard humor and helping each other through it. Many first timers received invaluable help from more experienced triathletes. All rivalries were put aside due to the weather.

As in the bike segment, many people would slow down to say talk to David, and the people working the course were constantly cheering him. Toward the last 4 or 5 miles Tallahasseans Bruce Lynn and Wallace Randell caught up to us. They decided to stay with us to give David support. That’s the way we cruised through the finish, 4 of us looking like a tennis quartet, listening to the crowd chanting David’s name. It was a moment to remember.