Flippen’s compete in Pines triathlon.

Athletes brave cold to compete in Pines triathlon

They sloshed through 60-degree lake water. They whipped around three miles of track on foot followed by nearly a dozen miles on bike, fighting the frigidness of early February weather.

More than 100 triathlon and duathlon athletes braved the chill and squared off on the eve of Groundhog Day at C.B. Smith Park, tearing through winding pathways, jogging several blocks along high-traffic roads and swimming 400 yards of manmade lake. The athletes competed for the glory – and bragging rights, to say they endured a hard-fought race in one of South Florida’s coldest days this year.

Some proceeds from the Ground Hog Triathlon/Duathlon, which was sponsored by Coconut Creek-based T-4 Events, benefited the Sheinberg Family YMCA of Weston’s scholarship program, which provides free or discount memberships to low-income families, said T-4 Events Founder Laura Bender.

“Families need the services of their YMCA center but can’t afford it, and this helps them,” Coconut Creek resident Bender said. “I started the company because we’re out here for the athletes and for love of the sport.”

David Pleif $Capital { return “Š”} else { return “š”}e, a Slovenian armed forces soldier living in Hollywood, first swam a 400-meter loop around the lake, jogged three miles and two loops around C.B. Smith Park’s campground areas, then biked 11.6 miles out to Flamingo Road and Pines Boulevard, crossing over to Taft Street and re-entering the park again. He crossed the finish line in first place, conquering the course in 57 minutes flat.

Despite the bitter cold, Pleif $Capital { return “Š”} else { return “š”}e considered the triathlon easy and plans to compete in four more Olympic-length events by the end of March.

“This is a piece of cake for me,” said a dripping-wet Pleif $Capital { return “Š”} else { return “š”}e, 25. “I’m really training against myself, competing in easy triathlons to prepare for the summer’s harder ones. It was colder on the bike than in the water.”

Winners were determined by the top three-placing finishers in the competition itself and their bracketed age group, where competitors as young as 14 and as old as 63 vied for trophies.

Karen Flippen, of Pembroke Pines, rooted for her two competing sons from the sidelines. The youngest, 14-year-old Gregory, hopped out of the frigid lake third while the eldest son, 21-year-old Jeff, trailed not far behind. To train, Gregory practiced on his high school swim team; and Jeff, a motocross racer by hobby, built up endurance at the gym.

“They’re both first-time triathletes,” Flippen said. “Gregory was so nervous the night before that he couldn’t stop going to the bathroom, and then he said it was so cold coming out of the water! Win or lose, I couldn’t be prouder of them for finishing the race.”

Lifeguard Len Rodriguez witnessed firsthand how the brisk temperatures affected each competitor’s swimming.

“I saw nine competitors had washed out; they were unable to finish,” Rodriguez said. “Some panicked, some had cramps, some had toes that were frozen stiff.”

Once competitors completed the course, both triathletes and duathletes alike treated themselves to blueberry pancakes, cereal, nutrition bars and fresh fruit from a nearby pavilion.

Used to competing in triathlons twice the Groundhog event’s length, 28-year-old Byron Creech skipped his usual training regimen and still scored second place in the 25-29 age group. During full Ironman triathlons, which comprise a marathon-distance run, two and half miles of swimming and more than 100 miles of biking, Creech commits to three trial-runs on the course a week.

“It’s really fun, and it can be as simple as you make it,” said Creech, a Coast Guard from Fort Lauderdale.

Phillip Valys is a Gazette staff writer. E-mail him at pines@tribune.com


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