Expect a mixed crowd of racers at Whidbey triathlon

Drew Magill, the men’s winner for the past three years, rides into South Whidbey Community Park. He’ll be one of hundreds of athletes at Saturday’s annual triathlon.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Drew Magill, the men’s winner for the past three years, rides into South Whidbey Community Park. He’ll be one of hundreds of athletes at Saturday’s annual triathlon.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

They’ll swim in the cold, dark water of Goss Lake with a few hundred other racers. They’ll bike up and down the hilly, rural roads west of Langley. Then, they’ll run through the winding, wooded paths of South Whidbey Community Park.

All that for a not-so-lousy T-shirt.

And for Phil Newman and Katie Plovie, 27-year-olds from Seattle, that’s reason enough for competing in this weekend’s 15th annual Whidbey Island Triathlon.

Plovie had her eye on such a shirt for some time.

“Phil has a cool looking T-shirt,” she said. “And I thought it looked really neat and I wanted one.

“Then Phil told me if I wanted the T-shirt, I had to do the triathlon.”

Others are taking on the triathlon for something other than great gear.

The youngest registered racer, Sierra Kozak, 12, had a different motivation to swim, bike and run, on Saturday, Aug. 6.

“It makes me feel that I accomplished a lot and that I have more guts than I think I have,” Sierra said.

Sierra may be young, but she’s a veteran of long-distance races. Sierra, a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho resident, participated in kids triathlons and completed two sprint (short distance) triathlons this year. She will swim as part of one of 21 relay teams with her parents’ friends who live on Whidbey Island.

The Whidbey race will be her third triathlon but she doesn’t have a time goal.

“Usually, when I do the whole ones, I try to conserve my energy,” Sierra said, “but for this one, I’m going to hit it hard.”

Sierra was too young to race last year. That is a dilemma that John Alsip of Langley doesn’t need to worry about.

Alsip, 74, is the oldest athlete in the race so far. He is part of a relay team, and his plan is to walk the 3.8-mile course through Community Park.

He’s had a bit of practice, to be sure.

After a heart attack in 1998, Alsip began walking at 5 a.m. everyday for at least two hours. He now walks between four and eight miles each morning.

Still, like so many racers, his goal is both modest and ambitious. But don’t mistake his walk for a crawl.

“I’m a fast walker,” Alsip said.

He competed in last year’s race, and his aim this year is to not finish last.

The triathlon is known for attracting first-time racers. The main reason: It’s short, but not too short.

From Goss Lake to Community Park, the course totals 23.8 miles, which categorizes its total length as intermediate, according to USA Triathlon specifications.

A shorter distance, as well as the T-shirt, drew Plovie. She was just a runner before Newman enticed her to the triathlon with his race shirt.

“It’s attainable for somebody that’s just starting,” Plovie said. “And it’s also fun for somebody that’s been doing it for longer.”

The race’s bike portion is longer than the maximum short distance at 19.5 miles (against 18.6), according to The half-mile swim and 3.8 mile run are near the higher ends of a short triathlon.

Swimming is where Sierra expects to excel, or at least not be last. She trained on a rigorous triathlon schedule; she only takes Fridays off from either swimming, biking or running.

“I guess I’ll just try to keep up in front and hope I’m not in the back,” Sierra said, breathing heavily after a two-mile run.

Her personal goal is to surprise people as the youngest racer. That’s her favorite part of racing in triathlons.

“I just like the feeling of finishing and coming out first in my age group,” Sierra said. “I just like to see the surprise in people’s faces.”

Two people won’t be surprised at all — her parents, Jim and Kathleen Kozak. Both supported her to compete in the triathlon.

“They encourage me to train and keep fit,” Sierra said.

Fitness was another draw for Newman and Plovie. Newman raced in last year’s Whidbey triathlon for his first triathlon. Since that first race on Whidbey, he’s competed in four more triathlons.

“I just do it for fun now,” Newman said. “I discovered that I like doing it most of the time.”

Newman, Plovie and Sierra are examples of the race’s far-reaching pull; only 22 percent of the hundreds of racers are from South Whidbey. The race draws athletes from across the country including Connecticut, Texas, Florida, Hawaii and California. Competitors from Italy and the Netherlands will try the triathlon, too.

To accommodate the race’s large field of competitors, organizers are renting out camping spots at the Island County Fairgrounds.

With more than 300 racers expected to compete Saturday, bed-and-breakfasts and hotels fill up fast, said parks program coordinator Carrie Monforte, and camping provides another option.

“It makes it a little more affordable, too,” Monforte said.

Monforte said plenty of spaces were available. The camping spots on Camano Avenue, less than two miles from Community Park, range from $10 to $15, if the camper requires electricity.

Newman and Plovie will camp at the fairgrounds, and Newman said he wished it was available last year. He awoke at 4 a.m. and biked from his Capitol Hill residence to the race at Goss Lake.

Last year’s capacity race raised almost $8,000 for the parks’ programs.

“Last year was one of the best years,” Monforte said.

Parks officials aren’t expecting a repeat of high revenues, though.

Expenses increased this year due to inflation, an additional officer on duty, more certified flaggers and assistance from the city of Langley, which was partially volunteered last year.

However, race organizers expect to fill the registration for the fourth consecutive year.

Racers may check-in between 2 and 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5 or between 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6 at South Whidbey Community Park, 5495 Maxwelton Road.

Race organizers also said they need about 25 more volunteers for the race. Interested helpers can email Monforte at, or call her at 221-5484.

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