More than 30 years ago, Dave Woodworth was looking for a pick-me-up.
He found it way back then at the finish line of the second running of the San Luis Obispo Triathlon, where a shiny prize for completion was enough to hook a lifelong participant and help spawn the type of tradition the triathlon now thrives on in its 33rd year.
“That was a blast because everybody got a medal, and quite honestly, I never got anything before,” said Woodworth, who has participated in the SLO Triathlon 31 times and is referred to affectionately as “Super” Dave by his racing club, Team Rhino. “So the fact that I got a medal, I was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to do this.’ ”
Since then, the Tri-athlon has become an annual reunion site for Team Rhino, an informal group of friends and family that comes together from out of town on the eve of every triathlon to reconnect at a local hotel. “The biggest thing is actually the love everybody basically oozes out when they see each other,” Woodworth said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in a year.’ It’s just this genuine love for this family.
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“It just seems like you need this once a year to get away from all the other crap in your life and just be around people that are happy.”
More than two dozen members of Team Rhino and their families showed up to take part in the 0.5-mile swim, 15.3-mile bike and 3.1-mile run Sunday at Sinsheimer Park, where San Luis Obispo resident Van McCarty continued his pursuit of dominance in the city’s endurance sporting scene and tragedy nearly struck in the pool.
An alarming event marred the early portion of the staggered swim, where a participant had to be removed from the water by lifeguards and rushed to the hospital.
Witnesses described an older man, whose name was not revealed by event organizers, laying motionless on the deck for more than 10 minutes while lifeguards and emergency personnel used a defibrillator and emergency breathing to revive him.
“One of our participants had what we believe to be a cardiac event,” said Shelly Stanwyck, San Luis Obispo director of parks and recreation, “and as a result of that event, lifeguards observed it, they were able to take him from the pool, they were able to perform the emergency care that he needed.”
The man was alive and breathing when he left the park in an ambulance and was taken to a local hospital for further care, Stanwyck said.
“It was an amazing save on the part of our lifeguard staff, whose training shined at that moment in time,” she added. “It couldn’t have turned out better. Obviously, it’s tragic to have a heart event happen in the pool, and our hearts go out to he and his family, but it was amazing that people were able to respond the way they’re supposed to.”
At almost the same time, McCarty was busy finishing off the second fastest time of the day.
McCarty, who finished first in the inaugural SLO Marathon in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 35 seconds in April, crossed the finish line leading into SLO Stadium in 1:11:30, just 58 seconds ahead of Scott Machado. James Calder of Arroyo Grande posted the fastest time at 1:11:22.
The 41-year-old also placed third in his age group and 13th overall at the Wildflower Triathlon Festival long course in 4:36 at Lake San Antonio in May.
“After the marathon and Wildflower, I ended up with a calf injury. So, I’ve only been running for about the past two weeks,” McCarty said. “This was really an unknown to think if I could still run well on the calf. “I was excited. I tried to go as hard as I could.”
McCarty, who usually participates in longer races, entered the SLO Triathlon for the first time in at least seven years, he said, and he trailed Machado the entire race until the final mile or two.
“I’m like the bridesmaid,” said Machado, who has entered the SLO Triathlon at least a dozen times with many top-five finishes. “I always come in second or third or whatever. This year I was in the lead, so it’s kind of disappointing.
“It’s always been something that has been out there for me. Always having someone else be one ahead of me is difficult to take.”
Napa’s Terra Pepper had the fastest women’s time, finishing in 1:16:09. Barb LeMoine, 42, of San Luis Obispo, who had the fastest women’s time last year, crossed the finish line in 1:20:06, the third-fastest women’s time behind San Luis Obispo’s Robin Oswalt, who finished in 1:18:20.
For many others, the goal isn’t to finish with the fastest time overall but to beat their own times from previous years.
Charlotte Belyea, 45, from Paso Robles was the first woman to cross the finish line in 1:39:56. She knew it would not hold up as the day’s best, but the four-time participant was thrilled to have beaten her previous best.
“I was trying to beat 1:40, and I beat 1:40,” Belyea said. “I’m strongest as a biker, but I like to swim a lot too, and I just try to survive the run.”
Said Machado: “That’s what’s great about this race is people can keep coming back to it and keep themselves motivated.”