Correction: Because of errors by the San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation Department, earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported the woman with the fastest time in the triathlon. Barb Lemoine of San Luis Obispo was the fastest woman.
Nineteen-year-old Higginbotham twins Casey and Ryan have been trying to one-up each other for much of their lives.
Whether it was the childhood game of darts that ended with a projectile lodged in Ryan’s skull or a testy tryout for a spot on the Arroyo Grande High varsity wrestling team that was ultimately decided by 20 stitches on a busted knee, the college students aren’t shy about their sibling rivalry.
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After finishing behind his brother in each of the past two editions of the San Luis Obispo Triathlon, it was Ryan who had reason to celebrate in the 32nd annual running at Sinsheimer Park on Sunday.
“I was ahead of him the first year” in 2009, said Ryan, who finished the ½-mile swim, 15.3-mile bike and 3.1-mile run in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 27 seconds Sunday. “I had a solid lead, and my tire blew out. That killed me. Last year, he beat me by 30 seconds, and this year, I had the motivation going.
“It was a good victory.”
The organizers of the San Luis Obispo Triathlon emphasize completion over competition, but if they weren’t competing against their identical twin, many of the estimated 1,200 people who took part were trying to best their own time from a previous year, prove they could break barriers or take down a secret nemesis.
Once again, local pro Chris Stehula, 26, finished with the fastest overall time. The former Cuesta College standout athlete and Cal Poly club national champion was also the first person to cross the finish line, coming in at 1:04:05. Barb Lemoine of San Luis Obispo was the fastest woman in 1:23:41, and Ed, Lauren and Jeremy Riley combined to be the fastest three-person team to cross the finish line in 1:13:28.
It was the seventh time that Stehula, who also coaches swimming at Arroyo Grande High as well as at the club level, has claimed the best mark.
The sprint triathlon is more of a warm-up event for his longer races later in the season — such as the $150,000 XTerra World Championship in Maui on Oct. 23 — but it’s important to Stehula to support the local community’s event while also getting a chance to gauge where his training is.
“It’s a good test to see where you are in comparison to last year,” said Stehula, who has improved his previous times in all but one of seven years he’s entered the race since 2001. “That’s the great thing about this race is that’s what everyone is trying to do. That’s what Gene is trying to do. Everyone is trying to go a little bit faster.”
Gene Gomez, a 49-year-old from San Luis Obispo who lost more than 300 pounds before competing in his first triathlon last year, finished close to 20 minutes faster in his second attempt this year and was excited enough by his finish that he was ready to run the course again afterward.
The membership counselor from Kennedy Club Fitness finished in 1:54:16 and was proud to say he overcame any urge to walk over the final segment.
Gomez and Robert Broughton, 32, leaned on each other for moral support while ascending the long hill toward the end of the race, urging each other to keep going.
Broughton, a longtime competitor for San Luis Obispo County Special Olympics competing in his second SLO Triathlon, was originally exposed to the event as a volunteer.
San Luis Obispo Recreation Supervisor Rich Ogden, who had more than 300 volunteers helping run the race this year, said Broughton is the only Special Olympian to run the race solo in Ogden’s 25 years as an organizer.
“I volunteered for three years,” Broughton said, “and I was saying, ‘I’m so active, why am I sitting watching people running when I could actually do it?’ ”
Last year “is when I said, ‘I am going to do it. I am going to do the race and just show them how I can do it.’ ”
Broughton finished in 2:17:42.
Early finishers also included 71-year-old Arby Kitzman of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo anesthesiologist Damian Horstman, 44.
Kitzman, one of 50 entries from the Central Coast Triathlon Club, qualified for the USA Triathlon age group world championships last year and aims to do so again this season despite being hampered by an Achilles injury. He finished in 1:34:55.
Horstman was the first person after Stehula to cross the finish line. He ended up with the fourth fastest time in 1:13:09.
“I think I did well against the rest of the group,” Horstman said, “but I still have a long way to go to catch Chris. Maybe if he ages 15 years. Fifteen years and two kids will probably get him closer to my time.”
Todd Gailey, a 33-year-old engineer/paramedic with the Morro Bay Fire Department, turned in a time of 1:16:01 to finish with the 13th best time overall.
Gailey was so fresh at the end of the course, he came barreling down the final straightaway in a crowd-pleasing all-out sprint.
“That’s what I was probably happiest about,” Gailey said. “I felt good all the way through, so I added a little something at the end.”
Competing in his fifth SLO Triathlon, Gailey got some more satisfaction when he came in ahead of former champion Keith Schmidt, 50, of K-Man Cycle and Run in Atascadero.
Schmidt, who finished in 1:21:04 Sunday, bucked a near decade-long streak of second- or third-place finishes that led him to being dubbed the “bridesmaid” by posting the best individual time in 2005, finishing in 1:12:05.
Since then, Gailey has wanted to pass Schmidt up.
“K-Man is the guy I try to beat every year,” Gailey said. “This is the first year I’ve ever beat him.”
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