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Ex-NFL star struggles but finishes St. Anthony's Triathlon

ST. PETERSBURG — Former NFL receiver and Dancing With the Stars winner Hines Ward was glad to see the swim leg of Sunday's St. Anthony's Triathlon shortened from 1.5 kilometers to 750 yards because of choppy waters.

"Compared to my first triathlon, this swim felt great," said Ward, who played 14 seasons with the Steelers. "I was ready. I've been training."

St. Anthony's was Ward's first Olympic-distance triathlon. He did a spring triathlon last month in San Diego but struggled in the water.

"He's come a long way," Ward's coach, Paula Newby-Fraser, said. "He was just awesome."

Fraser, the winner of eight Ironman World Championships, is training Ward as part of the "Got Chocolate Milk?" ad campaign.

"I think he really dug down deep for this one," Newby-Fraser said. "Now it is on to Kona."

Ward, 37, plans to do a Half Ironman next then the granddaddy of all triathlons, the Ironman in Hawaii, all in less than one year.

"After all those years in the NFL, you would think that I was in good shape," Ward said. "But playing football is nothing like endurance sports."

Ward's overall time was 2 hours, 26 minutes, 37 seconds. He finished the abbreviated swim in 15:53, the 40-kilometer bike in 1:33:27 and the 10-kilometer run in 51:27.

"I am ready for the next one," said Ward, who had 1,000 catches in the NFL. "It gets a little easier with each triathlon."

Pitch man: Anthony Sullivan is best known for his infomercials. But the 44-year-old star of late-night TV also was a standout swimmer growing up in Devon, England.

"I swam the 100 butterfly," said Sullivan, who lives in St. Petersburg. "I still work out every day with the master's team at North Shore Pool."

Sullivan has completed the Olympic distance triathlon for the past seven years. But this year, he had to sit out the bike and run and do the swim as part of a relay team.

"I'm nursing a hip injury," said Sullivan, an all-around outdoorsman who takes yearly surf trips to Costa Rica. "I hurt it dirt biking in Colorado."

Sullivan said he plans to do the full triathlon next year.

"The St. Anthony's Triathlon is one of the reasons why I moved to St. Petersburg," he said. "I just love this race."

Team spirit: In addition to thousands of individuals, the St. Anthony's Triathlon always draws hundreds of triathletes who compete on relay teams. Many of this year's finishers got their start on teams such as St. Petersburg's T3.

"It stands for Teamwork, Train, Tri!" said Christy Nelson, who does the running. "We are just friends and neighbors who help each other belong."

The team started when Trisha Johnson, a 46-year-old mother of two, started swimming to lose some baby weight. Johnson recruited Nelson, an experienced distance runner, half-Ironman finisher and mother. The two then recruited another mom, 43-year-old Jennifer Thayer, to cycle, and a tri-team was born.

The trio won their first race, the Longleaf Tri Sprint, in October. Sunday, the competition was a little tougher. Team Tri! finished in 2:50:25, eighth in the women's division.

Said Nelson: "We are just happy to be in the top 10."

Miscellany: Many of the nearly 100 pros who competed for the $65,000 purse also earned points in the opening of the nine-city 5150 circuit. … The event drew athletes from 44 states and 23 countries.

Ex-NFL star struggles but finishes St. Anthony's Triathlon 04/28/13 [Last modified: Sunday, April 28, 2013 9:10pm]

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