ST. PETERSBURG — Tears blurred spectator Jim Kirkman's vision. Goose bumps pimpled relay swimmer Charlotte Petersen's skin.
For Jen Scalise-Marinofsky, a Boston native who was at mile 18 when bombs marred the Northeast city's annual marathon, the tribute early Sunday only spurred on her determination to make her hometown proud.
Standing against the backdrop of the rising sun, athletes and spectators at the St. Anthony's Triathlon paused for a moment of silence and a somber bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace honoring the victims who were maimed or killed at the April 15 Boston Marathon, and the heroes who came to their aid.
"Today," said Father John Mullet, director of pastoral care at St. Anthony's Hospital, "we stand together with all of our friends in Boston."
The remembrances touched off St. Anthony's 30th annual triathlon, the first event of the World Triathlon Corp.'s 5150 Triathlon Series that also allows racers to qualify for the 2013 USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance National Championships.
In light of the Boston tragedy, race organizers met with St. Petersburg police to enhance security for the event, which drew 3,500 athletes from 44 states and 23 countries, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of spectators to St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park.
Among them was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Michigan chapter's Team in Training, competing in its 10th St. Anthony's race. On the plane ride down, coach Asher Cornelius said all 25 team members wore ribbons honoring the Boston victims.
"We always feel safe down here," he said. "You can't stop an athlete. You can't dampen their spirits. They're always going to persevere."
Carolyn Kiper, a pro-athlete coordinator from St. Petersburg whose run during the Boston Marathon was cut short this year, said she was surprised by the anxiety she and her friends continued to feel Sunday.
"The environment here sort of makes you a bit wary, as far as looking around and looking over your shoulder," said Kiper, 53, who was three-quarters of a mile from the finish line with a visually impaired runner she was assisting when the Boston bombs exploded.
"I don't know if we can ever shake that feeling," she said.
Most athletes refused to let the tragedy distract them from the scenic route, energetic fans with cowbells and motivational signs, or camaraderie.
As with other races since the Boston explosion, participants Sunday said they noticed an increased police presence. Unlike past years, St. Anthony's race officials banned backpacks and instead provided clear plastic bags for athletes' belongings.
"It's really great to see the organization really reacted appropriately and really has tried to make this a safe race," said Susan Airheart, a 54-year-old triathlon coach from Charlotte, N.C.
"What happened in Boston was incredibly tragic. But life goes on — as it should," she said, pulling on a wet suit and blue swim cap in preparation of the first leg of the race. "You don't ever want to let those people win."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or email@example.com.