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Triathlete runs off to victory in Rotary race

Will Iaia liked his odds of winning Friday's Crystal River Rotary Triathlon after he finished the second leg of the competition near the front of the pack.

"I had confidence in myself," Iaia said.

Now we know why.

The 21-year-old, who lives in Denver but has trained this summer near Orlando in Clermont, won the event (which included a quarter-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and 3-mile run) in 1 hour, 6 seconds, two seconds better than past champion Rob Skaggs of Tampa.

Ashley Carusone, 18, of High Springs won the women's title in 1:07:55, and David Rowland of North Reddington won the Masters division in 1:01:45.

The 36-year-old Skaggs was six minutes better than when he won the event in 2001, but Iaia used a strong run to take it.

"I'm pleased," Iaia said. "Very pleased."

Iaia was one of four representing the National Training Center Development Squad in Clermont. One training partner, Tim Sandfort of St. Louis, placed third. Another, Andre Lapar of Glen Cove, N.Y., was sixth. Kaili Purviance of Austin, Texas, the other group member, was 33rd.

"Collectively we had a real good day," Sandfort said. "We're all great friends. We push each other day in and day out."

To arrive and prepare for the 7:30 a.m. start the four left Clermont two and a half hours before sunrise. During the event they shouted words of encouragement to their teammates and traded high fives when it was over.

"On race day we just try to have fun," Iaia said.

Carusone, a 2003 Gainesville High graduate and competitive triathlete since 1995, has won in consecutive years. Lisa Plescia of St. Petersburg was second in 1:09:38 and was the women's Masters winner. Carusone's sister, Julie, a high school junior, was third.

"I like this race," Carusone said.

Carusone likely was the strongest swimmer in the field. She is a four-time state champion and will compete for the University of Florida this fall. Carusone has qualified for next summer's U.S. Olympic trials in three events.

She swims five hours a day and runs three days a week. Carusone led from start to finish.

"I do very little biking," Carusone confessed. "I have a good aerobic base from swimming. I just have fun and try to beat as many guys as I can."

In its ninth year the triathlon continued to grow. The first had 10 competitors. On Friday, 279 finished, up from 228 in '02.

The field's youngest participant, 11-year-old Alyssa Burkert-Stevens of Winter Garden, awoke at 3:30 to make the trek with her father, Bob. She finished 23rd in the women's division.

"It was fun," Burkert-Stevens said.