ST. PETERSBURG — William Pearce can’t put his finger on exactly what took him away from running.
Sure, a busier schedule entering the medical field played a part after his collegiate career at North Florida concluded. But running and swimming were as much a part of his life as breathing and eating.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, it gave Pearce a new perspective. As someone on the front lines, he saw firsthand how fragile life was for his patients and fellow medical caretakers.
“This thing started and life turned into a strange perspective all of a sudden,” said Peace, 34, of South Tampa. “I was making these decisions about life and death not just for other people, but for myself. And every day felt like such a gift in a way that it really might be the last one.”
The pandemic forced Pearce to refocus on the things that mattered in his life, including his first love.
“I just started running again,” he said. “In the same way I’m not really sure why I left it. It’s hard for me to say exactly when that brought me back to it. But it did, and once that spark went off, it just started an explosion.”
Nearly two years later, Pearce — an emergency medicine doctor of seven years — is competing in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon. He’ll join around 2,000 others who will swim, bike and run around St. Petersburg on Sunday for the first time since 2019, the last time the race was held. Pearce will compete in the Olympic-distance race.
When Pearce returned to training in spring 2020, he broke out his college spikes and ran a few miles around the track at the University of Tampa. He was a few pounds heavier than in his North Florida days, but he still held a five-minute-mile time.
“I thought that was awesome,” Pearce said. “And then I couldn’t walk for three weeks and realized I had a lot of work to do.”
At the time, it had been a decade since Pearce had put his body through rigorous training.
He started having fun again. He’d bike with friends and wake up at 3 a.m. — before his residency shift — and run along Bayshore Boulevard.
Pearce had grown up traveling the country with his dad for various competitions before accepting an offer to race collegiately on a scholarship. Now he was competing on his terms.
“It was a wonderful new perspective for me,” Pearce said. “And now, I had a day job and I was choosing to come back to this thing that I loved.”
Less than a couple of months into training, Pearce signed up for a race in Sarasota. His fiancee, Michaelia Sunderland, waited alongside the route with a sign that said “Just keep having fun.”
“She knew how much I was really just enjoying the sport again,” Pearce said.
Pearce estimated that he has competed in at least 15 races since the pandemic started. By the end of 2021, his results — which included a first-place finish in Siesta Key’s Sirens and Merman triathlon in 2020 — caught the attention of USA Triathlon. This year, he was invited to race in the elite category in all events.
For the longest time, Pearce avoided signing up for St. Anthony’s. He knew the event, which attracts competitors from around the world, is one of the most prestigious around. The idea stressed him out. He wanted to make sure he could still race for fun.
But this year felt like the right time to sign up.
Once Pearce approaches the starting line Sunday, he believes he’ll have come full circle with his running career. His father, Bill, will be on the sideline like he always was when Pearce was growing up, alongside Sunderland and others in his family.
Showing up to the race will be a success in itself for Pearce.
“I wasn’t even jogging recreationally two years ago,” Pearce said. “The fact that I’ll just be on the start line with these (professionals), like holy moly, I couldn’t be more excited about anything.
“Instead of showing up to a start line worrying about winning like I did the first 20 years of my competitive life, I’m just showing up so thankful to be there and be a part of it and to be a competitor, and I’m not sure anything could be better than that.”
Contact Mari Faiello at email@example.com. Follow @faiello_mari.
Meek & Mighty
When/where: Saturday; North Shore Pool, St. Petersburg
Competition: A shorter-distance race for youths ages 7-14 and novice adults; 7:30 a.m. start time
Notable: Sports and fitness expo at Vinoy Park runs from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
39th St. Anthony’s Triathlon
When/where: Sunday; Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg
Olympic distance race: 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run; first wave starts at 6:50 a.m.
Sprint race: 750-meter swim, 20K bike, 5K run; 8:35 start
Notable: Sports and fitness expo at Vinoy Park runs from 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Road closures/delays: Expected from around 7 a.m. to 2.p.m. Closures include:
• Brightwaters Boulevard will be closed between Snell Isle Boulevard and the turnaround in the 1900 block of Brightwaters
• Bayshore Drive will be closed between 7th Avenue N and 5th Avenue S
• North Shore Drive NE and Coffee Pot Boulevard will be closed between 7th and 22nd avenues N
• Fifth Avenue S (Dali Blvd) will be closed from 1st to 4th streets
• Pinellas Point Drive will be closed (drivers will be allowed to cross when safe to do so)
Delays or intermittent closures include:
• 1st Avenue S between 28th and 1st streets S
• 4th Street S between 18th Avenue S and Pinellas Point Drive
• Portions of 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th streets S between 1st Avenue S and Pinellas Point Drive
• Snell Isle Bridge will have limited vehicle traffic allowed