The natural beauty of Oregon is rarely lost on its residents, particularly during the pristine summer months.
As expected in late July, that beauty was on full display Saturday morning at Cottage Grove Lake where around 400 swimmers, cyclists, runners, kayakers and paddleboarders from around the country took part in the ninth annual Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove.
With cool waters and typically warm July air, the near-perfect conditions took center stage as participants of all ages and experience levels headed out on the course.
“It’s such a beautiful, beautiful spot for a triathlon,” said Shane Jensen of Portland, Oregon, who woke up at four o’clock Saturday morning to make the three-hour drive down to Cottage Grove.
“The location is exceptional, the lake seems cleaner than most and ... it’s a flat course, too, so I like the size of it. It’s not too big ... but still there are enough folks that there’s serious competition. So all those things together make the three-hour drive worth it.”
Clanging cowbells to spur the athletes on, the boom of the announcer’s voice over the PA system and throngs of cheering spectators, family and friends made for a lively ambience. Yet perhaps the most immediately noticeable aspect of this year’s Tri at the Grove was the diversity of participants.
“Just getting out here with so many different folks and seeing the whole spectrum of athletes. It’s impressive, especially the age ranges. There was a 72-year-old out there just crushing it. I only caught up with him on the last few miles of the bike ride ... he’s out there ahead of most of us, I mean, just an animal!” said Jensen.
Throughout the day, race director Blair Bronson wore many hats, though none more noticeable than his trademark cowboy hat. Nonetheless, despite his full plate on race day, Bronson took notice of the varied demographics represented at the lake.
“Seven or eight states were represented today, so a good little reach. A lot of folks come up from California, Washington. We had a good contingent from B.C. that comes and joins us and an Idaho group that’s pretty regular. So it’s pretty cool to see folks willing to travel across state lines and beyond to come down to CG, and our goal is to make as positive of an impact as we can,” Bronson said.
“This year we added a paratriathlon in which paratriathletes come out,” Bronson continued, “so the highlight’s probably getting [them] out there for the first time and … this is the most youth athletes we’ve had out here as well.”
On the other end of the spectrum from this year’s record youth turnout was Lockett Wood, the oldest participant of the day at 80 years old.
“I started [doing triathlons] when I was 70,” Wood said. “I had a brother in law that just challenged me to do one. We did the Nation’s, which is a triathlon with 5,000 people in Washington D.C., and I won the age group and got hooked.”
Wood, who came all the way from Lyons, Colorado, also shared his views on the quality of this particular event..
“This is one of the prettiest triathlons that I’ve ever run. It’s gorgeous. It’s one of the nicest courses I’ve run on. And the bike course and run course were both gorgeous.”
When asked if he planned on coming back in the future, Wood responded enthusiastically, “I hope so, I hope so. It’s a good run.”
The 400 participants had a number of different course combinations to choose from. The longest, the Olympic triathlon, consisted of a 1500 meter swim, a 40 kilometer bike ride, and a 10 kilometer run. The sprint triathlon was roughly the same, just with distances cut in half.
Participants also had a duathlon option (biking and running, no swimming), the aqua bike course (swimming and biking, no running) as well as the paddle triathlon which replaces the swim with either a paddleboard or a kayak. All options were available in both the Olympic and sprint distances. Finally, there were two shortened course options for kids, one for ages four to seven and another for ages seven to 17.
Natural beauty, varied race options, inclusivity, and a bevy of experienced organizers. It’s no wonder the Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove recently earned the honor of being named one of Triathlete Magazine editor’s picks as a top-22 triathlon in the United States.
Like most triathlons, it was an event with many moving parts and logistical concerns. But, once Saturday morning arrived race directors and scores of volunteers got to work. Bronson seemed pleased with the results.
“There are countless pieces to the puzzle trying to make it all come together, especially on a short timeline. It’s a bit of a challenge, but we have a really great volunteer crew behind us ... there are always little things you can improve here and there but this is a pretty sweet event,” he said.
“Almost everyone who started finished ... so any time we have folks crossing the line healthy and happy, I’m happy.”
For full triathlon results visit www.triatthegrove.com/resultsphotos.html.