Record crowd – of contestants – turn out for triathlon series

Scott Swanson

The number of competitors didn’t quite break the 1,000 mark – yet, but the seventh Best in the West Triathlon series, held over the weekend at Lewis Creek Park on Foster Lake, was by far the largest so far.

“It went great,” Co-Director and Operations Manager Staci Partridge said after three days of smoke-free skies and cool mornings, which are a boon to endurance athletes.

“It was definitely our best year ever. We felt like everything went smooth and people were having a great time. The weather was absolutely perfect. It couldn’t have been better.”

The field included at least 17 competitors from Sweet Home, and Partridge said more may have signed up at the races over the weekend, specific entry results from which were not available Monday.

Rebecca Wolthuis, who has competed every year since the beginning in the Sprint event until this year, went for the Half Ironman Saturday and finished the 1.2-mile swim in Foster Lake (40:56.8)/ 56-mile bike (3:25/57)/13.1-mile run (2:48:20) course in 7:01.40, 31st out of the 50 women in the race.

Ken Bronson, who is the father of race founder and Co-Director Blair Bronson, Partridge’s fiancé, was well ahead of his goal time on the bike leg of the Half-Ironman when he suffered a knee injury, which forced him to compete in the swim-bike Half-Iron Aquabike instead. He finished fifth out of 18 competitors in that event, clocking 41:49.8/3:07:19 for 3:52:04.

The men’s winner of the Half-Iron race was John Seddon, 35, of Sequim, Wash., who finished in 4:34.00. Shannon Coates, 31, of Portland defended her title from last year, finishing in 4:58.30.

Local finishers in Sunday’s Olympic Triathlon, a 1500-meter swim in the lake, followed by a 40K (just under 25 miles) bike ride and a 10K (6.2-mile) run, included Rachel Tyler, 38, who finished 45th among 42 women in 3:44.57; and Kelly Sautel, 38, who finished immediately behind her, 46th in 3:44.57.

The Olympic-distance champion was Kyle Wicks, 24, Woodburn, who won the men’s division in 2:08.20 after placing fourth last year. The women’s winner was Monica Emerick, 44, of Portland, in 2:33.47.

In the Northwest Collegiate Conference Championship, Oregon State University won the team title, while Travis Wood of Boise State finished in 2:07:41 to top the 31 men’s competitors and Brianna Troksa of the University of Washington clocked 2:18:58 to finish first among 13 competitors in the women’s race after placing third last year.

Local finishers in the Sprint Triathlon Saturday – a 500-meter swim in Foster Lake/12-mile bike ride/5K (3.1-mile) run – included Cameron Taber, 17, who was 58th in the men’s field of 111, finishing in 1:26.02; Bradley Wolthuis, 16, 78th in 1:30.11; Keith Sautel, 39, 86th in 1:35.15; Mindy Cummings, 90th out of 156 female competitors in 1:41.09; and Brandi Pickett, 38, 128th in 1:56.47.

The men’s Sprint winner was returning champion Theodore Casterline, 52, of Portland, in 1:00.40. The women’s Sprint winner was Sara Cannon, 48, Portland, in 1:06.37.

Also competing Saturday was a Sprint Relay team of Dennis Barnhart, Eric Mauer and Sebastian Mauer, who finished the race in 1:15.46, the lone competitor in their division.

Race organizers were watching the smoke-filled skies warily last week until breezes from the west and Thursday’s rain helped clear the air. The Air Quality Index had to be below 150 for the event to proceed, Partridge said. Early Thursday afternoon, Sept. 7, the event’s website,, proclaimed: “Smoke Update – It’s gone! Let’s race!” after the AQI fell to 31.

“It couldn’t have been better,” Partridge said. “It blew the smoke out in time for us to make the call on whether to have the race.”

Registrants totaled 920 at the end of the weekend, she said, well over the 670 who finished the races last year. The event’s growth has been steady: 175 in 2011, 234 in 2012, 313 in 2013, 430 in 2014 and 542 in 2015.

Best in the West’s reputation has grown in the triathlon community as well; Triathlete Magazine named the Half Ironman race among its top picks in the nation. Last weekend’s events included competitors from 71 triathlon teams, from Germany, Canada and Hawaii, and from the East Coast.

“People came from everywhere,” Partridge said, though she noted that none were from Florida, where Hurricane Irma was making landfall.

The weekend’s races drew approximately 150 first-time competitors in a triathlon.

The oldest racer registered prior to the weekend was 75 and there were a total of 89 youths spread through the various events, the youngest of them age 4.

The Try a Tri race Sunday, featuring a 250-meter swim in the lake, a five-mile bike ride, and a 1.5-mile run, drew two Sweet Home competitors: Julie Fisher, 44, who finished ninth in a field of 16 in 59:19; and Marie Gaskey, 33, who was 10th in 1:05:43.

Competitors from Sweet Home in the Youth Tri, covering the same course as the Try a Tri, included: Rylee Markell, who was 17th in a field of 23 in 55:31 Kirsten Sautel, 10, 18th in 57:11; and Peyton Markell, 10, right behind her in 19th in 57:11.

Youth Triathlon winners were Trevor Witt, 14, of Corvallis, for the boys in 32:35, and Hannah Middleton, 11, of Corvallis, for the girls in 36:00, followed by her twin sister Kate, who was second in 37:15, after giving up 1:20 on the bike leg.