ST. PETERSBURG — Jaime Lillo, Tina Geiger and Jayce Elliott were trying to find some bright moments in dark times while working in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The trio picked up three 12-hour shifts weekly in addition to overtime. Their unit typically holds 26 patients, Lillo said, and at one point they were administering care to 38 patients.
Seven months into the pandemic, they needed something to distract them from the stress they faced on the front lines. With limited options, they turned to the outdoors.
In October 2020, they saw an advertisement for the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, at the time set to return in 2021. The event was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and ultimately pushed back to this year.
On Sunday, Elliott crossed the finish line, securing a 25th-place finish overall at 2:51:17 in the Olympic-distance relay for the “Resuscitators”
“It gave us something else to focus on,” said Elliott, 36, of Riverview. “We would talk to each other about the stress of work because people at home didn’t understand. But it was nice to have something to talk about with each other that wasn’t the stress of work and it was motivating and fun.”
The trio started training that fall after signing up. They kept each other accountable through a group text updating personal progress. Lillo would swim while Geiger would bike and Elliott would run. A lot of their training included 4:30 a.m. alarms before “life” started with families to care for and upcoming work shifts.
“The run (Sunday) was really hot, but I felt motivated just by the atmosphere of the race and knowing they had finished and were waiting for me,” Elliott said. “I was like, ‘I have to keep going!’”
The race’s spring start marked a sense of “renewal” for the group.
“It feels like the other side,” Elliott said.
Added Lillo, 40, of Tampa: “It’s a fresh start.”
And the trio doesn’t plan on stopping now that they’ve had a taste of the triathlon life.
“To actually be out there and do what we’ve been training for for a year and a half was really great,” said Geiger, 36, of Ruskin. “We got the (racing) bug.”
Family affair for former St. Anthony’s champion
Ben Kanute already was excited heading into this weekend’s race as the defending champion.
Kanute won in 2019, but he felt like he already had clinched another victory before crossing the start line Sunday. This go-around, Kanute was racing with his father, Mike.
The duo didn’t swim, bike and run side-by-side. Ben raced in the professional Olympic distance group while Mike raced in the age-group one.
Sunday marked the first time the two have competed together since August 2021′s Escape from Alcatraz in San Francisco, where Ben took home his fourth Alcatraz title.
“It’s pretty rare that I get to have my dad on the sideline as well,” said Ben, 29 of Phoenix, Ariz. “That makes it a little extra special (returning to St. Petersburg).”
During the race, Mike, 57 of Chicago, Ill., struggled with not knowing how his son had fared. Ultimately, Ben fell short of defending his title, falling to Matthew Sharpe and finishing third overall at 1:44:19, five seconds behind the champ.
“It’s hard not knowing,” said Mike after placing 18th in his division at 2:43:03. “I just kind of told myself, ‘I’m sure he did it. He got it,’ just trying to stay positive. And I’m happy that he was in it until the end.”
The race also marked a special return for Mike, who was competing in St. Petersburg for the first time since 2004. He used the same bike Ben used during St. Anthony’s in 2013, an older Trek Speed Concept.
“This is great...,” Mike said of sharing the event with his son. “It’s just really cool and I love it.”
St. Petersburg teen pulls a double
Caedmon Higgins was trying to catch his breath after finishing Sunday’s sprint race. The 14-year-old from St. Petersburg had a good excuse: He had swum, biked and run nearly 35K in almost 24 hours.
Higgins typically only competes in Saturday’s Meek and Mighty portion of triathlon weekend, but this year he wanted to challenge himself.
On Saturday, Higgins posted a 24:25 after his 200-yard swim, 5.4-mile bike ride and 1-mile run, finishing first in his division and 12th overall. On Sunday, he swam 750 meters, biked 20 kilometers and ran a 5K to finish fourth overall and second in his division (1:05:10).
The key to staying fresh for both races was plenty of sleep.
“It’s fun,” Higgins said, “and it’s just a great race.”