Stehula wins SLO Triathlon

Rich Ogden has seen the SLO Triathlon grow quickly in his 23 years planning the event as a recreation supervisor for the San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation Department.

When Ogden began organizing the triathlon, 750 participating athletes were cheered on by spectators, a few volunteers and family members.

Now, Ogden moves from station to station organizing and coordinating an event that saw more than 1,250 athletes participate with the help of 300 or more volunteers.

The logistics of planning such a race are tough to handle, even for Ogden and his staff.

“We’re already planning for 2011,” Ogden said. “Seriously, it takes a long, long time.”

While the race has changed and grown over the years, one thing has remained a constant since 2002: If Chris Stehula enters the triathlon, he wins it.

This year was no different, as Stehula finished the half mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and 5K run in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 53 seconds to win for the seventh time.

“He’s pretty awesome,” Ogden said. “Pretty studly. He’s a good kid, I’ve known him since he was about 15 years old and it’s nice to see him be so successful.”

Stehula said he counts himself as a runner first, but he led all swimmers out of the pool by nearly a minute. He currently teaches several area swimmers as a coach with Puma Aquatics, and he admitted that it has helped in the water.

Not usually the first out of the water, Stehula found himself in the unusual position of leading from the beginning.“I don’t know what George (Newland) was doing,” Stehula joked. “George is fantastic, he always beats me out of the water every year. He actually has an Olympic medal in water polo. That man can swim.

“If I was out of the water ahead of George, then fantastic.”

With Stehula beginning his triathlon at 6:30 a.m., temperatures were cool with cloud cover. Those conditions are generally frowned upon by triathletes, but Stehula said he thrives in them.

“Guys like me and Keith (Schmidt) are a little bit bigger than most endurance athletes, and we can overheat easily,” Stehula said. “So when it’s cold, you can just haul butt. You can go fast and you don’t have to worry about it.”

Ogden and Stehula both embrace the idea that completion, not competition is what makes the triathlon as popular as it is.

“The whole reason to come out here is to support the local race,” Stehula said. “People ask me, ‘Well why do you keep doing this race,’ but the more people that do this race the better.”

Scott Machado, a three-time runner-up, took the time to grab his children and run with them across the finish line, a gesture that took nearly a minute and knocked him down from third to fourth place in 1:13:44.

But it was that kind of atmosphere at Sinsheimer Park throughout the day, as athletes hugged love ones or posed for pictures as they crossed the finish line.

“That’s why SLO is so fantastic,” Stehula said. “Even in a downwards economy, this race is still growing. People are still coming out here and supporting parks and rec and having a good time.”

Makenzie Heisdorf of Shell Beach was the fastest woman to complete the course, finishing in 1:18:05, good for 14th overall.

The race had participants ranging from ages 15 to 76. With the swim portion of the event held at SLO Swimming Center, the traditional start time is scratched so that waves of swimmers can participate throughout the course of the morning and early afternoon.

“Logistically, it’s a nightmare,” Ogden said. “But I love it, I really do.”