A Tri(umphant) return!

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Adrian Betti shows his support for first-time triathlon participant Elizabeth Boatright by joining her for the mini after completing the sprint. Betti tied for second place overall for the men with Joel Dunst in the 12th annual Tri Community Tri in Pima on Saturday.

Tri Community Tri posts record numbers in return after COVID-19 cancelation in 2020

By Jon Johnson


Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

PIMA – The just Netflix and chill crowd this is not. 

While some people may have slacked on their overall fitness levels during the pandemic, those who yearn to get outside and go for a swim, bike, or run gathered in mass in Pima on Saturday for the triumphant return for the 12th annual Tri Community Tri. 

The event, like most others, was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, co-race directors Brian and Angela Paull (who took over race duties from founder Chérla Ramsey in 2016 when she moved from the area) brought the sprint and mini-triathlon event back this year and posted a record number of participants since they took the helm.

“We had over 140 participants sign up,” Angela said.

She said the best part of the event was the weather, which stayed sunny but was “not too hot.” 

Angela said she also thought the Cottonwood Wash Road route is good for this race and was glad they were able to utilize it again this year after not being able to previously. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Joel Dunst gives a wave while traversing the bike course. Dunst finished tied for second overall with a time of 1:14:57.

“We were able to bring it back this year and it just makes it for a challenging, yet fun ride,” Angela said. 

Brian, who is an avid bicyclist advised his favorite section of the event is the back half of the bike ride which heads downhill on Cottonwood Wash Road back to the end at the Pima Pool. 

“It’s rolling hills, but it’s downhill from that point,” he said. 

More than 40 volunteers help make the event run smoothly. “I utilize all the high schools and they bring a lot of students,” Angela said. “The nursing college comes and helps every year; the EAC tennis team helps every year, and I couldn’t put it on without them.”

“We’re really grateful for them and their help,” Brian said. “We hope to see even more next year.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Duane DeSpain shows his enthusiasm for the event. DeSpain finished first in the 40-49 age group in 1:29:03.

After braving the chilly Pima Pool for a 425-yard swim, racers exited and hopped on their bikes stationed right outside the pool gates for a 15-mile ride. The bicycle route takes competitors through town to the outskirts with rolling hills and beautiful views of majestic Mount Graham. The racers dismounted at the same bike staging location and completed the event with a 5K run through town, finishing under the big inflatable finish line with the crowd cheering and Vernon Batty of Jon’s Heating and Cooling announcing their arrival by name.

Throughout the various stages of the event, words of encouragement were heard from racer to racer. Numerous volunteers were also on hand to provide assistance when needed and to help with transitions. Law enforcement was also working the race route to help make sure no accidents with other vehicles took place and guided traffic control while numerous signs were placed throughout the bike and run portions to advise drivers of the bikes and runners on the roads. There were no injuries reported this year. 

The family-friendly event also features a mini race that includes a 75-yard swim, followed by a 7-mile bike ride finished with a 1-mile run. Participants ranged in age from just a few years old to the oldest competitor, Larry Hansen, who was the only competitor in the over 70 category.  

Jon Johnson Photo Gila Herald: Racers swam 425 yards in the Pima Pool before riding 15 miles on a bike and then running a 5K to finish the sprint triathlon.

While the mini is geared for children, anyone is welcomed to participate. Some racers who finished early ran the mini-course with their significant others or children, many of who were competing in a triathlon for the first time. 

The mini Tri was an old hat for Sara Foote, however, who is blind. She started competing in the race in 2017 and hasn’t let her vision impairment or other physical issues slow her down. Foote competes in the event with her friend, JoAnn Ungerman, who rides in front on the bike portion and helps guide Foote through the course.    

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Sarah Foote and JoAnn Ungerman are all smiles after the race.

The race is completely run by volunteers with proceeds going back into the race and donated to the community. Some projects funded by the race include the Pima Pool’s PA system, lane lines, and a reel, while others include donating money to local sports teams, helping fund an Eagle Scout project, and providing AED machines. The Tri is a registered non-profit, and all donations are tax-deductible. 

While volunteers were busy beforehand, racers began to arrive at the Pima Pool at about 6 a.m. for the anticipated 7 a.m. start. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Bobby Gonzales, of El Paso, Texas, literally ran away with the victory and finished in 1:07:10.

Leading the pack from start to finish for the males was Bobby Gonzales, of El Paso, who was the first in the water and the first to finish with an overall time of 1:07:10. Gonzales was followed by Joel Dunst and Adrian Betti, who both finished at exactly 1:14:57. CEP Timing, out of Phoenix, providing the timing for the event as it has done in the past.  

For the females, perennial champion Melinda Nelson also made her triumphant return after missing the 2019 event due to scheduling issues and finished first in a time of 1:22:20. Following closely on Nelson’s heels was long-time race competitor Stephanie Summers at 1:26:07, with Michelle Peterson just scoring third place overall in a time of 1:28:15. 

In the mini, Haydn Wilkins took home first for the males in 38:35, followed by Jackson Paull in 39:34 and Ryan Kelley in 42.59. For the females, Hinako Uchida took home top honors by finishing in 43:17, followed by Hinckley Nelson in 44:02 and Jalin Tilley in 44:07. 

The top three finishers in each age category for both males and females in both the sprint and mini races all received medals. 

“We’re just grateful that we’ve had so many people come,” Angela said. “We’ve had people that have come from Texas, Tucson, Phoenix – from everywhere – and it’s been incredible.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The top three finishers for the women are, from left, Melinda Nelson (first place), Stephanie Summers (second place), and Michelle Peterson (third place).

The Paulls also thanked all of this year’s sponsors including Gold level sponsors Copper Hills Dental and LifeNet; Silver level sponsors, including Gold level sponsors Copper Hills Dental and LifeNet; Silver level sponsors Freeport McMoRan Inc., Gila Herald, and ToothBUDDS, and Bronze level sponsors Roadrunner Rehab, ReLion Realty LLC, Computer Systems Management LLC, the town of Pima, and Therapeutic Massage/Melinda Larson LMT. 

Click here to view a photo album from the race. 

Click here to view a complete list of times. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The 12th annual Tri Community Tri saw record numbers since the Paulls took over the event in 2016.
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