By the hundreds, they converged along the St. Petersburg waterfront on a clear, mildly crisp Saturday morning: the meek, mighty and even the painfully honest.
More than 700 triathletes of wide-ranging ages (6 to 90) and skill levels hit the North Shore Pool — by dive, belly flop or some variation — for the Meek & Mighty, a precursor to today's 25th St. Anthony's Triathlon.
East Lake High senior Brandan Lewis was the first overall finisher (26 minutes, 22 seconds) on a course that included a 200-yard swim, 5.4-mile bike ride and mile run (with a slightly shorter one for ages 10 and younger). But the winners weren't the lone story lines. Others included a would-be winner who disqualified herself and a nonagenarian who outdid herself.
Lewis, who didn't even begin swimming competitively until August, took the overall title despite a few hitches.
"On the swim, I had to completely stop because I couldn't tell the lane lines," said the 17-year-old Oldsmar resident who will attend the University of North Florida. "Then I went, and I passed everyone I needed to. But going into the run, I had one of the worst cramps I've ever had because I had to make up so much time on the bike."
A veteran of two previous sprint triathlons, Lewis swam the breaststroke last year for East Lake and has since joined a club team. An accomplished guitarist, he said he also has done some BMX bike racing.
"I never had done a high school sport (before last fall)," he said. "And I really didn't want to leave high school without doing a sport."
The initial posting of the results in the 15 and older division listed 43-year-old Land O'Lakes resident Maria Ajamian as the top women's finisher (28:00). But the married mother of three later told race officials she completed only one of the three loops on the bike course, avoiding Rosie Ruiz notoriety.
Ruiz was announced as the women's winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon but stripped of the title when it was determined she cut the course.
"I didn't bother to ask (about the bike loops) because I didn't know and there weren't any signs," said Ajamian, 43, who never previously competed in a triathlon. "We're honest people. I couldn't have lived with myself."
Ajamian's confession made 15-year-old Delaney Owen of Clearwater the top women's finisher in the 15 and older division (28:38). The top overall woman was 11-year-old Ciara Hopkins of Clermont (28:06).
Owen, who is homeschooled, was competing in her second Meek & Mighty. The third of four children ages 7 to 22, she trains two to three days a week with Tampa Bay Tri-Sports.
"I felt great," Owen said. "I was tired, but I felt good."
You go, grandma
Clearly the most recognized — and wildly cheered — competitor was 90-year-old Ruth Gordon of Seminole, who competed side by side with her daughter amid a succession of whoops, claps and hollers.
The race's oldest entrant, Mrs. Gordon finished in 1:10.27, nearly 10 minutes faster than her time in the 2003 Meek & Mighty — her only previous triathlon.
"I was trying to hustle her along because I thought she would (break her '03 time)," said her 66-year-old daughter, Barbara Towey, who also will compete in the St. Anthony's race today.
Mrs. Gordon, profiled in the Times on Friday, was buoyed by a following that included no fewer than 11 relatives and roughly twice as many close friends. She began the race by sitting down on the pool ledge and easing herself into the water and ended it by high-fiving spectators upon nearing the finish line.
"I feel great," she said.
For them, every day is a triathlon
North Palm Beach resident David Reback can tell his fellow St. Anthony's Triathlon competitors a thing or two about endurance. After all, what's a 40-kilometer bike ride or 10-kilometer run compared to the grind of raising 10 (seven biological, three adopted) children.
Reback and his wife, Lyette, watched four of their kids compete in the Meek & Mighty. The hardest part of that?
"Probably just trying to keep an eye on all of them," said Lyette, gripping the handles of a fully occupied quintuple stroller.
David is the sister of Laura Bennett, a USA Triathlon team member who has qualified for the 2008 Olympics. As for Lyette, she enjoys running and has done a triathlon in the past but isn't competing this weekend. She's expecting child No. 11 in November and wouldn't mind even more.
"We'll take 'em all," she said.
And he's not a crook
Among the "name" runners who competed: 16-year-old Richard Nixon of Coconut Creek, who placed seventh in the boys 15-19 division (31:12).
Number of the day
0 Participants who required hospitalization, according to Kobe Bouromphongsa, public relations coordinator for St. Anthony's Health Care