April 30, 2005 – You would think the triathletes who have converged on St. Croix over the last few weeks came for only one purpose — to test themselves against the best and the "Beast." But these athletes bring their own stories to St. Croix, stories of athletic trials and triumphs and ordinary stories from ordinary people.
By 3 p.m. on Saturday, 834 athletes were signed up to participate in the Half Ironman. That number includes 75 Virgin Islanders, 624 from the mainland United States, 37 from Canada and 17 from Puerto Rico. Other athletes hail from places as far away as Australia, Japan and Argentina.
On Sunday, they will put their mind and body to the test, in what is known in athletic circles as the toughest half Ironman in the world. "The hardest part is the heat and humidity," Roma Hunter, 37, of Boston, Mass., said on Saturday. It's Hunter's first triathlon on St. Croix; she's using the course to train for the Lake Placid triathlon and the Hawaii Ironman. Roma said the hills in the bike course will test her endurance for future races. Heather Knoxx, 31, of Dallas, Texas, said finishing the course is her goal. She admits the "Beast," a 600-foot climb with a grade of 8 to 14 percent in a 0.7-mile stretch of highway, may be hardest for her to conquer. "On the Internet it looks like a cakewalk," she said. "But in person, well, I may be walking it instead of riding." Knoxx, a first-time triathlete, raised money for lymphoma research to get a spot in the St. Croix race.
David Glasgow, 33, of Raleigh, N.C., and Daniel Dillon, 40, of Atlanta, Ga., are mixing athletics with pleasure. Both came to St. Croix to race and vacation with their families. The pair doesn't seem to have any stress over the race. "I'll take it like it comes," said Glasgow, who brought his wife and sons, aged 2 and 5, with him. Dillon said he's heard the race is the "toughest half Ironman," but he hasn't seen the entire course yet. Dillon said he's "a little intimated" by the Beast, but the bike is his best event. Dillon's wife and parents came along to support him.
Jim Leissler, 36, stood by his racing bike making final checks of his equipment. He said he came with an entourage of nine people including his parents, sister, wife and children. It's his first St. Croix triathlon. Leissler said he competes in triathlons to stay fit. "I like to exercise so I can eat lots of good food," he said. Leissler said his family is enjoying their vacation on St. Croix and has even visited the Mid-Island fish market. "My mom really likes St. Croix a lot," he said. "We will definitely be back."
Bella Molnar, 55, brings a positive attitude to the race. Molnar has competed in 120 triathlons and six Ironmans. He said the only competition he didn't finish was in Australia when he hit a kangaroo with his bike. "The bike snapped in half," he said. Molnar said he does the events so he can visit exotic places. His philosophy on the races now is: "It's not how fast you are; it's how good you look when you finish."
From the windy city of Chicago, 21 women have signed up to compete. They are part of a group called Team Dream, an organization for women of color. The group encourages women of color to stay fit and healthy. "Less than 1 percent of triathletes are people of color," said Susan Gates, a spokesperson for the group.
As Saturday draws to a close, the bike stands are empty, the transition area is vacant, the aid stations have not seen their first patient, and the first runner's footfalls have not been heard. Soon the 17th annual St. Croix Half Ironman will be history, and hundreds of athletes hope to make history as well.
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