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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 30, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesMEMORIES OF AN EARLIER TRIATHLON

MEMORIES OF AN EARLIER TRIATHLON

The St. Croix International Triathlon, set for Sunday, May 7, is a marvelous event that draws dedicated contestants from around the world.
The best way for me to pay tribute to the Virgin Islands' premier sporting event is to relate my own participation in one of the earliest versions of the race and to tell you what it did for me, my niece and my nephew.
My triathlon odyssey started with the first one, in the the spring of 1988. My niece, Sally Berriman, was visiting me on St. Thomas. We flew down to St. Croix for a few days. Runners filled the streets of Christiansted. Swimmers plied the harbor waters.
"It's a triathlon, they're practicing for a triathlon," Sally cried.
"What's a triathlon?" I asked. I didn't know my life was about to change.
A few days later we were lying on the sand at St. Thomas' Coki beach. I fell asleep. When I woke up, Sally was missing. But there was this terrible thrashing in the water. It was Sally. She staggered out, dropped to the sand beside me.
"I'll get better, I promise, I've got a year to train," she gasped.
"What are you talking about?" I asked, the first intimations of future trouble hitting my stomach like a greasy johnnycake.
"We're going to enter the St. Croix triathlon next year," she announced when she got her breath back. "They take teams. I checked. We'll be Team Jordan, in your honor."
By the time Sally left for her Philadelphia home a few days later, I had given in to her plans. It was that or be branded a coward inside my extended family. And, to tell the truth, I liked the sound of Team Jordan, as she had cleverly surmised.
She would do the swim. We recruited her cousin Steve Zimmerman, another couch potato, for the bike portion. And I would anchor this relay team by running across the finish line for all three of us.
You must understand we're not talking about next Sunday's St. Croix Triathlon, the one that the Source's own Jamie Bate is undertaking by himself. To veterans of the first two triathlons, 1988 and 1989, later St. Croix triathlons were, well, sissy events.
Back then, when swimmers were swimmers, they swam three instead of two kilometers around the Hotel on the Cay. The bike course was a brutal 59 miles instead of today's 34 miles. And I was to run more than 12 miles in the hot sun, compared to 7.4 miles these days.
During the ensuing fall and winter, we kept track of each other by telephone. Sally was swimming laps in an indoor pool near Philadelphia. Steve was off the couch and pedaling the streets of Concord, Calif., prior to practicing hill climbing to get himself ready for The Beast, which then, as now, tests the endurance of any biker.
"Next April on St. Croix!" we would shout to each other on the phone.
I already was a gentleman jogger. Not fast, but I was good for as many as 10 miles — in the cool of early morning along the waterfront on St. Thomas. So I started running under the sun in the hills around Mountain Top, where I lived.
I was teaching two evenings a week at UVI on St. Croix. The week before the 1989 triathlon I stayed over two nights on the Big Island and tried the exact course three days in a row. Dehydration was a problem, but on the third day I made it to the end. I was ready, I knew I could do it, but I didn't tell anyone.
Team Jordan assembled in Christiansted a few days before the April 23 race. We wore our Team Jordan T-shirts. Our team headquarters was in the Schooner Bay Condominiums, across Gallows Bay from the fort, the finish line and the transition area.
Sally's problem was that in the choppy waters of the harbor she couldn't swim in a straight line. We decided to depend on the course's boundary monitors, people in kayaks and surfboards, to keep her circling the Hotel on the Cay instead of heading out toward Buck Island.
On the eve of the race, Steve presented his somewhat rickety bike for a safety inspection at the fort. When the inspectors looked doubtful, Steve told them, "I'm just here for the beer." So they approved his bike.
Before dawn on race day, the three of us walked to the fort to have Team Jordan's number painted on our legs and arms.
"Just like Mike Pigg," Sally grinned. Pigg, who had won the race in 1988 and was to finish second this day, was her hero. Eleven years later, Pigg is a sentimental favorite in Sunday's event.
Another triathlon contestant that April day was 18-year-old Lance Armstrong, who would go on to become America's international champion bicyclist.
At the age of 62 I didn't want to hang around the transition area in the hot sun for five hours before Steve finished his bike run and tapped me on the shoulder so I could start running, so I decided to spend the time resting in the air-conditioned comfort of the Schooner Bay Condominiums.
I put Sally in the launch that would take her to the Hotel on the Cay and the start of the swim. I promised I'd be at the fort when she came out of the water and that both of us would slap Steve on the back as he started down the street on his bike. She said she could do the swim in two hours.
I returned to the fort in two hours. Biker Steve was long gone. Sally was jumping up and down on the grass in unrestrained joy. She had come up the ramp from the water in under an hour and 30 minutes.
I returned to Schooner Bay, where I stretched out, fully dressed for running, on my bed and dozed off while contemplating my forthcoming 12 miles in the sun.
An hour or so later, the phone rang. A female voice asked if I was Team Jordan. I said I was.
"Your biker has crashed," she said. "We have him at the main aid station."
I jumped from the bed, raced out the door, and sprinted at full speed, arms pumping, the more than a mile to the fort, realizing as I ran that my afternoon in the sun wasn't going to happen that day.
I raced around the fort and through the transition area, jumped over the snow fence around the aid station and burst into the first tent, shouting "Steve Zimmerman, Steve Zimmerman!"
They took me to him. He was lying stomach-down on a cot. Teams of doctors and nurses were hovering over him, not because of his injuries — which were not that serious — but because he was their first casualty of the triathlon and they wanted to practice their skills upon him. Behind the nurses came the masseuses with their ointments and skillful hands.
My feelings of concern for Steve gave way to jealousy.
The Beast didn't defeat Steve; he went up and over it. But at about the 30-mile mark, he was pedaling down a narrow Christiansted street when an old Crucian woman ignored the outstretched arms of the course monitors and set off across the street in front of his bike. He hit the brakes. They locked, and Steve went over the top of his bike.
Ring Lardner, one of America's greatest sportswriters, wrote in the 1940's a funny short story about baseball. It was called "You Can Look It Up."
So it was with Team Jordan. You can look it up. In the records of the 1989 St. Croix Triathlon you'll find Team Jordan and the designation "DNF." It stands for Did Not Finish.
We talked about returning to St. Croix the next year. But there was no triathlon in 1990 because of Hurricane Hugo.
Steve never went back to eating potato chips on the couch. He continued to train and started doing triathlons on his own. In 1993, one year after beating cancer through chemotherapy, he completed the Diablo triathlon in California. It was his last triathlon. He now teaches high school math.
Sally decided to concentrate on biking after St. Croix. She became very good at it. A distance of 100 miles was her norm. Now living in Denver, she fell prey to leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant. She plans to get back on a bicycle as soon as her doctors give her the green light.
St. Croix in 1989 was my only triathlon. My knees rebelled
after years of jogging on pavement in Washington and St. Thomas.
We're having a family reunion later this year. Sally's going to bring the videotape we made of our adventures in St. Croix. We'll play the tape and laugh, and agree once again that the 1989 triathlon was a seminal event in our lives.

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The St. Croix International Triathlon, set for Sunday, May 7, is a marvelous event that draws dedicated contestants from around the world.
The best way for me to pay tribute to the Virgin Islands' premier sporting event is to relate my own participation in one of the earliest versions of the race and to tell you what it did for me, my niece and my nephew.
My triathlon odyssey started with the first one, in the the spring of 1988. My niece, Sally Berriman, was visiting me on St. Thomas. We flew down to St. Croix for a few days. Runners filled the streets of Christiansted. Swimmers plied the harbor waters.
"It's a triathlon, they're practicing for a triathlon," Sally cried.
"What's a triathlon?" I asked. I didn't know my life was about to change.
A few days later we were lying on the sand at St. Thomas' Coki beach. I fell asleep. When I woke up, Sally was missing. But there was this terrible thrashing in the water. It was Sally. She staggered out, dropped to the sand beside me.
"I'll get better, I promise, I've got a year to train," she gasped.
"What are you talking about?" I asked, the first intimations of future trouble hitting my stomach like a greasy johnnycake.
"We're going to enter the St. Croix triathlon next year," she announced when she got her breath back. "They take teams. I checked. We'll be Team Jordan, in your honor."
By the time Sally left for her Philadelphia home a few days later, I had given in to her plans. It was that or be branded a coward inside my extended family. And, to tell the truth, I liked the sound of Team Jordan, as she had cleverly surmised.
She would do the swim. We recruited her cousin Steve Zimmerman, another couch potato, for the bike portion. And I would anchor this relay team by running across the finish line for all three of us.
You must understand we're not talking about next Sunday's St. Croix Triathlon, the one that the Source's own Jamie Bate is undertaking by himself. To veterans of the first two triathlons, 1988 and 1989, later St. Croix triathlons were, well, sissy events.
Back then, when swimmers were swimmers, they swam three instead of two kilometers around the Hotel on the Cay. The bike course was a brutal 59 miles instead of today's 34 miles. And I was to run more than 12 miles in the hot sun, compared to 7.4 miles these days.
During the ensuing fall and winter, we kept track of each other by telephone. Sally was swimming laps in an indoor pool near Philadelphia. Steve was off the couch and pedaling the streets of Concord, Calif., prior to practicing hill climbing to get himself ready for The Beast, which then, as now, tests the endurance of any biker.
"Next April on St. Croix!" we would shout to each other on the phone.
I already was a gentleman jogger. Not fast, but I was good for as many as 10 miles -- in the cool of early morning along the waterfront on St. Thomas. So I started running under the sun in the hills around Mountain Top, where I lived.
I was teaching two evenings a week at UVI on St. Croix. The week before the 1989 triathlon I stayed over two nights on the Big Island and tried the exact course three days in a row. Dehydration was a problem, but on the third day I made it to the end. I was ready, I knew I could do it, but I didn't tell anyone.
Team Jordan assembled in Christiansted a few days before the April 23 race. We wore our Team Jordan T-shirts. Our team headquarters was in the Schooner Bay Condominiums, across Gallows Bay from the fort, the finish line and the transition area.
Sally's problem was that in the choppy waters of the harbor she couldn't swim in a straight line. We decided to depend on the course's boundary monitors, people in kayaks and surfboards, to keep her circling the Hotel on the Cay instead of heading out toward Buck Island.
On the eve of the race, Steve presented his somewhat rickety bike for a safety inspection at the fort. When the inspectors looked doubtful, Steve told them, "I'm just here for the beer." So they approved his bike.
Before dawn on race day, the three of us walked to the fort to have Team Jordan's number painted on our legs and arms.
"Just like Mike Pigg," Sally grinned. Pigg, who had won the race in 1988 and was to finish second this day, was her hero. Eleven years later, Pigg is a sentimental favorite in Sunday's event.
Another triathlon contestant that April day was 18-year-old Lance Armstrong, who would go on to become America's international champion bicyclist.
At the age of 62 I didn't want to hang around the transition area in the hot sun for five hours before Steve finished his bike run and tapped me on the shoulder so I could start running, so I decided to spend the time resting in the air-conditioned comfort of the Schooner Bay Condominiums.
I put Sally in the launch that would take her to the Hotel on the Cay and the start of the swim. I promised I'd be at the fort when she came out of the water and that both of us would slap Steve on the back as he started down the street on his bike. She said she could do the swim in two hours.
I returned to the fort in two hours. Biker Steve was long gone. Sally was jumping up and down on the grass in unrestrained joy. She had come up the ramp from the water in under an hour and 30 minutes.
I returned to Schooner Bay, where I stretched out, fully dressed for running, on my bed and dozed off while contemplating my forthcoming 12 miles in the sun.
An hour or so later, the phone rang. A female voice asked if I was Team Jordan. I said I was.
"Your biker has crashed," she said. "We have him at the main aid station."
I jumped from the bed, raced out the door, and sprinted at full speed, arms pumping, the more than a mile to the fort, realizing as I ran that my afternoon in the sun wasn't going to happen that day.
I raced around the fort and through the transition area, jumped over the snow fence around the aid station and burst into the first tent, shouting "Steve Zimmerman, Steve Zimmerman!"
They took me to him. He was lying stomach-down on a cot. Teams of doctors and nurses were hovering over him, not because of his injuries -- which were not that serious -- but because he was their first casualty of the triathlon and they wanted to practice their skills upon him. Behind the nurses came the masseuses with their ointments and skillful hands.
My feelings of concern for Steve gave way to jealousy.
The Beast didn't defeat Steve; he went up and over it. But at about the 30-mile mark, he was pedaling down a narrow Christiansted street when an old Crucian woman ignored the outstretched arms of the course monitors and set off across the street in front of his bike. He hit the brakes. They locked, and Steve went over the top of his bike.
Ring Lardner, one of America's greatest sportswriters, wrote in the 1940's a funny short story about baseball. It was called "You Can Look It Up."
So it was with Team Jordan. You can look it up. In the records of the 1989 St. Croix Triathlon you'll find Team Jordan and the designation "DNF." It stands for Did Not Finish.
We talked about returning to St. Croix the next year. But there was no triathlon in 1990 because of Hurricane Hugo.
Steve never went back to eating potato chips on the couch. He continued to train and started doing triathlons on his own. In 1993, one year after beating cancer through chemotherapy, he completed the Diablo triathlon in California. It was his last triathlon. He now teaches high school math.
Sally decided to concentrate on biking after St. Croix. She became very good at it. A distance of 100 miles was her norm. Now living in Denver, she fell prey to leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant. She plans to get back on a bicycle as soon as her doctors give her the green light.
St. Croix in 1989 was my only triathlon. My knees rebelled after years of jogging on pavement in Washington and St. Thomas.
We're having a family reunion later this year. Sally's going to bring the videotape we made of our adventures in St. Croix. We'll play the tape and laugh, and agree once again that the 1989 triathlon was a seminal event in our lives.