Sports

Triathlete runs with spirit of 76

Duke LeBaron, left, has been training for the three parts of the Whidbey Island Triathlon (swimming, bicycling and running) with training partner Sarah Birger. - Stephen Mercer
Duke LeBaron, left, has been training for the three parts of the Whidbey Island Triathlon (swimming, bicycling and running) with training partner Sarah Birger.
— image credit: Stephen Mercer

You’re never too old to “tri.”

If someone catches 76-year-old Duke LeBaron whizzing by on his Specialized bicycle or jogging along a South Whidbey road this summer, his shirt may say exactly that.

Last fall, LeBaron began training for the Aug. 6 Whidbey Island Triathlon, his first-ever triathlon.

To demonstrate that no one should consider old age a barrier, he laughed when recounting that another runner is considering making T-shirts with the “You’re never too old to tri” slogan.

While the T-shirt idea seems funny to him, he takes training for August’s Race The Rock triathlon seriously.

The inspiration to compete first came from following his son, Trif, a triathlon athlete.

LeBaron decided to give it a go himself after volunteering at last year’s Whidbey Island Triathlon.

His training began last October. He now trains with Sarah Birger, a co-worker at Bayview Farm and Garden.

The decision to work with a training partner proved essential to LeBaron’s success.

For instance, in running, his weakest event, she pushes him on their twice-weekly runs. He admits that he would not finish some hills if she did not give him support.

LeBaron returns the favor by encouraging her in swimming, his best event. They meet twice a week at Island Athletic Fitness to swim in the lap pool.

With summer approaching, though, he said they plan to take their swimming training outside to some local lakes.

Besides training as a team, the Internet played a pivotal role in their progress.

Their training programs follow a schedule posted on a triathlon Website. The Internet also provides a link to Patricia Buchanan, a Freeland woman who is helping LeBaron and several other first -time triathletes prepare for competition.

Buchanan, a veteran of about 40 triathlons, started her “newbie group” for triathletes in January.

It is a loosely-knit group in which runners may run by themselves or in small groups, she said.

Buchanan calls herself the group’s guidance counselor. She sets up running and bicycling clinics with experienced local athletes and she also schedules nutrition classes.

In addition, she provides email training schedules and tips to the group’s 19 current members.

While LeBaron does not follow her training schedule, Buchanan does provide inspirational tips in her emails, he said.

Buchanan’s group also provides inspiration for other local residents, including Jean Fankhauser of Clinton.

He participates in all of the group’s special events, such as a time trial last week.

“He’s working unbelievably hard,” Buchanan said. She added that Fankhauser has lost 30 pounds in preparation for the triathlon.

With the Race the Rock triathlon little more than a month away, LeBaron’s hard work is paying off for him as well.

His bicycling and swimming times continue to drop and he’s shed a couple pounds.

In fact, the ambitious athlete is hooked enough on training that he might try the Tour De Whidbey scheduled for Sept. 24.

If that happens, the “you’re never too old to ‘tri’” T-shirt might make a reappearance on LaBaron’s morning bike rides.

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