Don’t miss great show, right down the road

Scott Swanson

This weekend, a big event is taking place right down the road from you.

This is the ninth year that the Best in the West triathlon series is being held at Lewis Creek Park, as detailed starting on page 1. It will be held Saturday and Sunday mornings, with a wide variety of events.

And here’s the great part: It’s free for you to watch.

If you’re not already a runner or a swimmer or a cyclist, you might be wondering why you’d want to. All I can say is, everyone I know who’s gone out to Lewis Creek to check this thing out has come away inspired to, well, get off the ol’ duff and maybe try to get in shape.

Inspiring the rest of us may not be the primary purpose of the event, but it’s a nice corollary benefit.

I usually don’t use this space to advocate for or promote an event, but I’m making an exception this time, because I don’t think most of the people in our community realize what a tremendous deal this is.

This is a quality event, which has become one of the most popular and well-regarded triathlons on the West Coast. It has gotten larger every year and this year’s crowd of competitors, between all the events spread over two days, is shaping up to be well over 1,000. It’s well-organized and it’s fun to watch.

I’ve been a runner for decades, so I admit I have a little bit of predisposition toward this sort of thing. But I’ve never really enjoyed biking or swimming.

My wife (a former high school swimmer) talked me into doing the sprint tri a few years ago, and we ended up buying some decent-quality bikes, because we didn’t have any. I have to admit, my attitude toward cycling has changed. I really enjoy going riding together now, which is a nice alternative to running with my dog. (The dog doesn’t appreciate this, but my knees do.)

Anyway, although I still need to work on improving my swimming, which will probably improve my attitude toward that activity, I’m making progress toward being a more regular participant.

The fact is, though, attending the triathlon will very likely be inspirational even if you never do one yourself.

It’s amazing to watch these people, many of whom look a lot like the rest of us, dive in and emerge from the lake after swimming anywhere from a fifth of to more than a mile, watching them roll out and back on their bikes, riding anywhere from five to 50-plus miles, then running 1½ to 13 miles, all depending on which event they’re participating in. They’re coming and going constantly. The activity is intense.

These competitors are serious. For many, this is the culmination of a journey from where many of the rest of us are – non-swimmers, non-bikers, non-runners, generally inactive – to being able to do this.

What’s great is that the organizers, Blair and Staci Bronson, have built this thing into an event that accommodates just about anyone’s abilities.

For instance, Blair told me when I called him last week to find out what was happening this year, that they’ve moved the Splash and Dash event for kids (short swim and bike ride, recommended for ages 3 to 15) to Saturday evening instead of Sunday morning, because they wanted to make it more family-friendly.

He said he’s so eager to expose local folks to the triathlon experience that he’s willing to waive the $25 entry fee for local kids if that’s what it takes for them to participate. That’s not on the website, but parents just need to hunt him down at the event (not hard – look for a really tall guy in a broad-brimmed hat or just ask somebody) and he’ll make it happen.

It’s inspiring. I know multiple people, including Gerrit Schaffer, whose story also starts on page 1, who came away determined to try something they never had before.

Even if you don’t think you want to participate yourself, it’s fun to encourage the people who do. Many of these folks have worked long and hard, turning themselves from couch potatoes into triathletes. And spectator support is really critical.

Blair was a talented high school runner, who got into triathlons while a student at Oregon State University. He told me what attracted him: “Why I fell into the sport of triathlon as a whole, rather than cycling, was that the last one to cross the line gets more cheers than someone else. It’s competitive, but in general the race is against yourself.”

Whether the athlete is an Olympic-level competitor or was sitting on the couch last year, pounding junk food and playing video games, they’ve gone through roughly the same process: building their strength and endurance and skills to get to Lewis Creek Park and complete a triathlon.

There’s going to be excitement. There will be crowds of healthy, motivated people having a good time. There’s good food. There are plenty of chances to volunteer (and get free food and a T-shirt) if you don’t want to be just a spectator (though you may be needed out on the cycling or running courses, where you direct and encourage competitors).

All this is happening right down the road, in your back yard. It’s free to you. Don’t miss it.