It’s the genuine vibes of the volunteers, fellow competitors, and spectators who take part in the Whidbey Triathlon that keep Useless Bay resident Bob Thome coming back year after year.
He is a week away from competing in the event for the 16th consecutive year.
The 60-year-old former Marine Corps pilot first competed in the triathlon on a “whim,” he said. His “old” girlfriend signed him up as a surprise in 2000. He’s loved it ever since.
“It was fun, the sense of community was so great here, and I was fairly new to the island,” Thome said. “The people were so nice and it just seemed like such a good time when I did it.”
South Whidbey Parks and Recreation director Doug Coutts felt the reason participants enjoy the race so much is in large part due to the volunteers who help make the triathlon happen, as well as the spectators who cheer the competitors on.
Coutts estimated a turnout of 315 to 320 participants this year, with 20 relay teams registered as of Thursday morning.
Among those running the relays are Langley residents Brian Atwood and his 9-year-old daughter Naomi. Atwood had to get a waiver from the Parks and Recreation District board members in order for Naomi to race.
The minimum age to compete is 16 years old.
“I’ve done the triathlon several times and I asked her if she would be interested in doing a relay with me and she said ‘yes,’ ” Atwood said.
Atwood will do the swim and the bike racing portions, while he and Naomi will run together to finish the triathlon.
“It’s just a great local race,” Atwood said. “We just enjoy racing here. These are all the roads we ride and run on. Its fun to get out and compete. More important than winning, participating with your kid is pretty neat.”
The level of competitiveness at the triathlon will vary with each participant who runs across the finish line.
There’s the serious, try-hard types who are there to win. There are those who take part on a whim, who don’t expect too little or too much from their performances.
Then there’s 65-year-old Patricia Buchanan, who cannot be distinguished anywhere in between. That’s because Buchanan may be one of the few competitors who is trying to recondition her mind not to be competitive.
Buchanan was once ranked fourth nationally in her age group for Nationals Olympic Distance Triathlon until a breast cancer diagnosis slowed her down in 2005. By the time she was cancer-free, she had endured a bilateral mastectomy, 28 chemotherapies, and 28 radiations.
Her trials were far from over, however. In July of 2011, Buchanan was competing in a triathlon in Mount Vernon when she was seized with a deep and powerful cramp in her left calf. It was later discovered that complications involving a synthetic mesh to correct a prolapsed vaginal canal, which had been implanted in 2006 while she was having a prophylactic hysterectomy and her ovaries removed, was causing Buchanan severe and debilitating pain. She had surgery to repair the complication in October of 2011.
The pain and frustration that came as a result of her mesh installation is why she is opposed to the method today.
“This is why I do everything I can regarding the mesh,” Buchanan said. “The doctors are installing them and saying that complications are rare. It’s just not true.”
Buchanan, who lived on Whidbey Island for over 20 years and currently lives in West Seattle, has spent the past three years recovering from her surgeries, the last of which was in August 2014. The Whidbey Triathlon will be her first attempt at a race following her surgeries, and her first time back to the event since 2011.
“I don’t even know what compelled me to compete this year,” Buchanan said. “Because I’m still alive, I don’t want all this mesh stuff to define me. I want to know in my mind that I can do it.”
Buchanan won’t be anywhere near the competitor she used to be, a fact she is still coming to terms with.
“I’m kind of embarrassed to think how I’ll do,” Buchanan said. “It’s very difficult for me to accept that I’m not who I was, physically or mentally, emotionally, — you’re just not, after all this. But I’m still here and that’s good.”
Coutts said the triathlon still needs more volunteers who can help cheer racers on, set up a water station, prep food for the finish line, and help break down the event at its conclusion.
Interested helpers can sign-up using VolunteerSpot at http://vols.pt/yCyVx2.
Racers may check in from 3-6 p.m. Friday and 7-9:15 a.m. Saturday in the Crow’s Nest above the concession stand at Community Park.