Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Jessica Balls glides through the water at the start of the 11th annual Tri Community Tri in Pima on Saturday. Balls finished in first place overall in the women’s division in a time of 1:20:00.
Event good for families, beginners, and serious competitors
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – The 11th annual Tri Community Tri went off seemingly without a hitch Saturday morning, as organizers, volunteers, town administrators, law enforcement, and sponsors were welcomed with beautiful weather as they came together to put on a great family-friendly event in Pima.
“We could not do it without you,” said race co-director Angela Paull. “Our volunteers make this event happen.”
The race was first begun by Cherla Ramsey, and after she moved from the area Brian and Angela Paull took up the mantle and have organized it for the past four years. As well as being a fun, family event, the race is a registered nonprofit that benefits the community as proceeds are poured back into the town. Over the previous three years, the event has poured $5,500 back into the town of Pima.
The event features two distances, the Sprint, and the Mini. In the Sprint, racers start with a 425-yard swim in the Pima Pool, followed by a 15-mile scenic bike through rolling hills, and finishes with a 5K run through neighborhoods in Pima.
The Mini includes a 75-yard swim, 6-mile bike ride, and a 1.5-mile run. There is also a relay event if a participant wants to do only one or two of the various sections. A total of 75 racers (including the three relay teams as one racer each) took the plunge early Saturday morning.
“It’s a great starting event,” Brian Paull said. “There’s a route for new beginners to the sport and (the Sprint) is long enough for those who are seasoned to get a good challenge.”
The top three finishers for male and female in both the Sprint and Mini were awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals with their corresponding finish number on them and the top three finishers for male and female in both the Sprint and Mini were awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals as well. The top three relay teams were also awarded the same medals.
Bobby Gonzales, of El Paso, blew away the competition this year with a course record 1:00:19 – absolutely demolishing last year’s fastest time of 1:17:02 by Eric Bingham, who was absent from the event after taking part in it four previous times. Brian Paull said the race is a good warm-up for other sprint or half-triathlons that come later in the year.
“The overall winner actually is using this specifically for a warm-up to do a longer race,” he said.
Coming in second for the men overall this year was Thomas Riggs, of Willcox, who finished in 1:13:46. Rounding out the podium was Dale Oldham of Tucson, who bested his second-place time from last year but still fell to third place with a 1:15:10 finish. This was Oldham’s third time competing and the second time his children joined him in racing. Riggs told the Gila Herald that this was his fourth or fifth time competing in the event.
“This year was real good,” he said. “I got to start a little bit earlier and there wasn’t as much wind, so I was able to go ahead and get out on the bike and move up a few places. The whole event is excellent. Angela puts on an excellent event. It’s always well-marked and as far as rating it, I do about two or three triathlons in the summer and this is one of the top ones for sure.”
Rivalries were renewed as Eastern Arizona College had at least five staff members in the race, paced by Dean of Students Gary Sorensen, who placed second in his 60-69 age division with a time of 1:48:50. Larry Hansen took the honors that age division, finishing in 1:33:00. Hansen and Sorensen also finished first and second last year in the event.
In the 40-49 age division, Duane DeSpain finished in 1:22:32, which was nearly two seconds faster than his rival, Derek Rich, who finished in 1:24:26. Rich and DeSpain have had a friendly competition in the event over the years, and this is the first time DeSpain has bested him.
Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald
On the women’s side, consecutive three-time champion Melinda Nelson did not compete this year due to another commitment, which opened the door for a new champion. It could have been a race to the finish as this year’s overall female winner, Jessica Balls, finished in 1:20:00, which is faster than Nelson’s first-place time from last year of 1:20:23. Of course, Nelson was pregnant and in her second trimester at the time.
It certainly was a family event for Balls, who was joined by her husband, brother, mother, and 3-year-old daughter, Kasiah, who did the run portion of the Mini. It was actually Kasha’s second year participating in some fashion. Balls said her mother got her to do the first one 12 years ago and they have done it every year it was held. The event took one year off due to logistics.
After the race, Balls had nothing but praise for the organization.
“The weather couldn’t have been better,” Balls said. “The staff was great. It was set up really well. We all had a great time. It’s a good event.”
“It’s a fun thing to start. It’s just a great way to have fun. We’re not crazy.”
Rachel Allen took home second overall in 1:25:02, and Balls’ mother, Allison Stiles, finished in third place with a 1:27:57.
In the relay division, GNS Express took home first in 1:18:49, followed by Jalapeño Hottie in 1:38:22, and Splash, Flash, and Dash in 1:46: 48.
In the Mini, Derek Millett took home overall male honors in 39:38, followed by Jackson Paull in 40:51, and Sean Oldham in 43:31.
On the female side of the Mini, Kaylie Gardner took first place in 41:27, followed by Brittlee Peterson in 44:35, and Jaylene McIntosh in 58:38.
The race also saw the return of competitor Sarah Foote, who is blind. Foote couldn’t compete last year due to health issues but was back this year with her friend and guide, Joann Ungerman, and the pair rode a tandem bicycle during the race.
“I like seeing all the new people and the young people and all the people (who) help those who are doing this for the first time,” Brian Paull said. “It’s a family event and I like seeing all the families come out to cheer each other.”
Angela Paull said one of her favorite things was the look of elation when the racers complete the event.
“I like to see all the smiles on everyone’s faces when they are finished,” she said.
Angela Paull encouraged those who might be on the fence about participating in the event to sign up and just do it next year.
“It’s fun to bring your family out and to be together as a community and to cheer each other on . . . Come join our event. All the funds are donated back to the community, so if you do this event, you’re just helping the community.”
To view a photo album of the event, click here.