One hundred twenty-seven people signed on for an early morning swim, bike and run at the annual Bighorn Canyon Triathlon held in conjunction with the Bighorn Lake Celebration on Saturday.
This was the fourth year for the event, which has grown from 25 participants in its first year to 120 actually putting on swim caps, lacing up running shoes and hopping on their bikes this year.
Organizer Ben Zeller said he thought everything went well and he received a lot of positive feedback about this year’s event.
“The weather was great except for a little sprinkle, the water was warm and there were no mishaps to speak of,” said Zeller, a triathlete himself, who participates in the event each year.
Zeller said he plans to keep the course pretty much the same so that people can compare their times to previous years each time they complete the course.
“The volunteers were great, but I wish we would have had more timers,” said Zeller. “They did a great job but could have used a little more help in that area.”
As in past years two friends who train together battled for first place with 36-year-old Martin Stensing, a math teacher from Northwest College, taking the top spot in the men’s division with an overall time of 1:06:39. Ladell Merritt, a 40-year-old physical therapist from North Big Horn Hospital, took a close second at 1:09:11.
Stensing said the two are like brothers except they get along better than many brothers. Merritt said he doesn’t mind losing to Stensing, or anyone for that matter, just as long as he knows he performed his best.
The two swim a mile about two or three times a week, bicycle somewhere between 100 and 150 miles a week and run 30 to 40 miles per week. It’s not at all uncommon to see Merritt bicycling from his home in Powell to work in Lovell. Often he will run after he rides home from work.
Merritt said he likes triathlons because training for three sports has cross training built into the program.
“Our idea of sitting in the La-Z-y Boy is sitting on a trainer and getting a bike workout while watching a movie,” said Stensing.
In the women’s division, 22-year-old newcomer Mariaa Cress unseated returning champ Jeanna Merritt with a time of 1:23:55. Merritt wasn’t too far behind with her second place win at 1:27:27.
Cress is a relative newcomer to triathlons and this was only her second time competing. She won her age division in her first triathlon in Casper just weeks before this overall win against a field of 24 women.
Although a newcomer to this sport, Cress is a very experienced athlete, participating most recently in the javelin throw for the University of Wyoming. Cress, a recent graduate of UW, said she took up triathlons as a hobby because she enjoys training.
This was her first visit to the Big Horn Canyon and she said she was very impressed with the beauty and splendor of the area.
“I’ll be back again for sure,” she said. “And next time I’m bringing some of my friends along.”
She travelled to the race this year in the company of her border collie named “Dish,” who she noted was one of her favorite training partners.
Cress is originally from Darby, Mont., and plans to return to her hometown to compete in the annual triathlon held there. She said her goal is to compete in longer triathlons in the future. She said her collegiate experience taught her how to train, especially where to peak, when to let up and when to go all out.
She is a certified personal trainer and has a degree in kinesiology and health. She is working as a CNA in Sheridan.
Fifteen-year-old Seth Fuller of Cowley took first place in the youth division (which ran on a shorter course) with a time of 53:59. Katie Doughty was hot on his heels the entire way and placed second with a time of 1.03.19.
Fuller said he does a lot of cross training and swims on a swim team in Powell. He also runs on the cross-country team at Rocky Mountain High School.
He said it helps a lot that his dad, Ross, is a chiropractor and an athlete himself. In fact, he often trains with his dad, who also competed on Saturday in the triathlon.
by Patti Carpenter