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St. Anthony's Triathlon

St. Anthony's among triathlons surging in popularity

Photo illustration by WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.   |   Times
The Condon family, which will compete this weekend, is pictured in Indian Rocks Beach. Top, from left, are Jim, 45; Tom, 16; Bonnie, 46; and Andrew, 14. Bottom, James, 8, prepares to dive in as Patrick, 9, wipes his eyes and Caroline, 12, swims.

Photo illustration by WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times The Condon family, which will compete this weekend, is pictured in Indian Rocks Beach. Top, from left, are Jim, 45; Tom, 16; Bonnie, 46; and Andrew, 14. Bottom, James, 8, prepares to dive in as Patrick, 9, wipes his eyes and Caroline, 12, swims.

ST. PETERSBURG

The Condons could be the poster family for the new triathlon.

"It is definitely a family affair," explained Jim Condon. "Mom, dad, five kids. … We all train and race together. We just love it."

Jim Condon, 45, fits the profile of the typical triathlete. He is male, middle age and a professional. But it's the rest of the Condon clan that has the folks at USA Triathlon, the sport's sanctioning body, giddy about its future.

"Participation has just exploded," said Philip Lahaye, race director for the St. Anthony's Triathlon. "We are seeing more women, more kids and even more seniors than ever before."

This year's event, scheduled for Sunday at Spa Beach in downtown St. Petersburg, sold out its 4,000 available spots in a matter of hours. The Olympic-distance triathlon, now in its 25th year, has seen a notable increase in the participation of women.

"It used to be 70 percent men and 30 percent women," Lahaye said. "But in the last couple of years we have seen that ratio drop to 60/40."

Condon's wife, Bonnie, 46, got into the sport three years ago at her husband's urging.

"He was always an avid runner," she said. "When he started doing triathlons, I saw it as something we could do together."

In 2000, triathlon participation on a national level began to increase dramatically. USA Triathlo's yearly membership jumped from 21,341 that year to 84,787 in 2006.

"Those numbers don't reflect the true extent of triathlon participation," said St. Petersburg's Brian Harrington, vice president of the Colorado Springs-based organization. "Most people sign up for one-day events, not yearly memberships, so the true number is probably well over 400,000."

Texas leads the nation with 10,457 registered triathletes. Florida ranks third (after California) with 8,762.

St. Anthony's and its 4,000 participants ranks third in USA Triathlon's list of 2,500 events.

Rue Morgan, who in 1993 started St. Pete Mad Dogs, now the nation's largest triathlon club, has watched the sport grow from its humble beginnings.

"You see a lot more women and kids at the races these days," said Morgan, whose 6-year-old granddaughter, Kyah, will be doing her first swim, bike and run this weekend. "The average age of the triathletes is also going up. People who started in their 40s are now in their 60s and still going at it."

Treasure Island's Larry Yost, a 78-year-old who still trains every day, said he takes inspiration from his wife, Jackie, who just turned 80. Both will be competing in this weekend's triathlon.

"I don't know if it keeps me young," Yost said of the sport he loves. "But I will say that it keeps me healthy."

Lahaye, who has been competing in triathlons for more than 20 years, said the most competitive age group used to be men in their mid 30s. "Today, the toughest group is the 40- to 49-year-olds," he said. "The guys who started 10 years ago are moving up."

Palm Harbor's Spencer Smith, who held the St. Anthony's course record for 14 years, said he is not surprised at the sport's growing popularity.

"People are looking for new challenges," said the 34-year-old former world champion. "They get bored just running. They want to mix it up."

But families like the Condons have the triathlon folks in Colorado Springs hopeful about the future. The Condon kids, ages 16, 14, 12, 9 and 8, are excited about this weekend's race. Though Jim admits it has been tough at times to get them all to train.

"That is where bribery comes in," he said. "I have found that 7-Eleven Slurpees seem to work the best."

St. Anthony's among triathlons surging in popularity 04/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 11:42am]
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