Veterans, siblings to compete in Whidbey Triathlon

Stacia McInnes sprints toward her fifth Whidbey Triathlon title in 2011.

When the Whidbey Triathlon celebrates its 20th anniversary on Saturday, Langley resident Peter Oakley can happily say he’s been around since the first event in 1997.

Oakley said the quality of the event, including everything from the organizers to the volunteers, has kept him coming back to the triathlon annually.

“It’s a very friendly event,” Oakley said. “I want to give a shoutout to all the volunteers. I enjoy saying hi to the volunteers and thanking them.”

The 54-year-old said while his heyday, which included four overall individual wins as well as a dozen top-three finishes, is behind him, he’s looking forward to joining the 275 participants in trying his best to succeed and continue tradition.

“It’s the hometown race,” Oakley said. “The course passes within a block and a half of my house. It’s just a long standing tradition.”

The starter-friendly course will begin at Goss Lake, travel through paved roads around the outskirts and interior of Langley and finish at Community Park. It will be familiar territory for Kenmore resident Stacia McInnes as well, another longtime veteran who has won the women’s division nine times. When she jumps in the sometimes-cold waters of Goss Lake at 10 a.m., it will be her 18th time doing so. Had it not been for time off while pregnant, McInnes may have matched Oakley in the times he’s competed. She too noticed how smoothly the event runs.

“I love it. It’s a great course,” McInnes said. “Parks and Recreation does an amazing job putting it on. There’s not many races that are organized like that.”

McInnes, 48, considers the event to be her “home race” despite living in Kenmore. Her family has ties to Whidbey Island that dates back to the late 1940s when her grandfather built a cabin in Clinton.

Her current training regimen includes swimming, biking and running three days a week, which she says is a toned down version of what her younger self could accommodate. Competing in cross country and track and field at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., McInnes was a hall of fame inductee and four-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American. During her 35 years of participating in endurance sports, which includes 12 Ironman competitions, McInnes said she’s developed a strong understanding of what hard work and dedication can accomplish.

“I consider it my life’s work,” McInnes said.

Competing alongside the two veterans will be siblings Rik Keller, Diane Ripper and Valerie Heggenes. It will be the first time the brother and sisters compete in the Whidbey Triathlon at the same time. Heggenes, a Langley resident, competed in the first six triathlons and then again in 2015, while Keller competed in 2014. It’s been a decade and a half for Ripper, the youngest.

Keller, who lives in Davis, Calif., finished sixth overall in 2014. He’s been the most active in brewing the sibling rivalry by sending texts to his younger sisters.

“We’re all blaming the middle child, Val; it was her idea to do this,” Keller said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

Keller was appreciative of the fact that despite the trio being parents in their 40s, they could find an activity like a triathlon in which they could all compete.

“I’m just glad were all able to do that and be active right now and its fun for our kids,” Keller said. “I can’t wait to see them finish. It’s always sort of this endorphin rush. It’s a great feeling. Usually, there are several points in the races where I wonder why I’m doing it. Then afterwards you figure it out.”

For Heggenes, it’s the perfect summer activity. She took a break from the triathlon as an individual when she had kids, though she continued to compete as the running leg for relay teams. Heggenes said her most challenging portion of the event will be the swimming leg. Overall, she felt the course has manageable distances for any level of competitor.

Heggenes is eagerly anticipating Ripper coming back from her hiatus with a vengeance.

“I know she’s gunning for me,” Heggenes said.