April 29, 2004 – About 200 triathletes tested the waters of Christiansted Harbor on Thursday in the second of three practice swims for Sunday's 16th annual St. Croix Half Ironman Triathlon, which kicks off at 6:30 a.m. with the aquatic segment.
Although official registration and check-in are Saturday, it's known that nearly 900 triathletes will take part in this year's event, and organizers have been predicting a record turnout.
Family and friends are on hand to support many of the competitors in their quest to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii, the Ironman Lake Placid and/or the Ironman Canada. According to race director Tom Guthrie, St. Croix is welcoming more than a thousand triathlon visitors, all told.
The first practice swim was held on Wednesday; the third is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.
With winds of about 15 mph on Thursday, the harbor waters were choppy. "When you're swimming out, you have to fight the swells," Justin Thomas, 29, of Fairfax, Va., said as he came out of the water. "Coming in was easier, like surfing. You just glide back in."
Thomas, who's been competing in triathlons for five years, said he was told that on race day the sea would again be choppy.
Jason Matulewicz, 31, is racing for Wheel Works Multi Sport of Boston. He and his girlfriend, Holly Harrison, are enjoying their first trip to St. Croix. Matulewicz said he hopes to qualify for the Hawaii championship. "I'm best in the run and the bike," he said. "I am a weaker swimmer, but I can make up the time in the run and bike."
Laurie Dunton, swim course director, has been overseeing the swim portion of the race for the last seven years. She designs and measures the course, sets the buoys, organizes the safety aspects and directs the underwater video production.
The safety of the swimmers is a major concern, Dunton said, and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Planning and Natural Resources Department and the Police Department are all involved.
"The Coast Guard issued a warning to all boaters in the area to avoid the swim course when the swimmers are practicing and during the race," Dunton said. On Sunday, she said, there will be three Coast Guard boats, safety divers and up to 60 kayakers in the water to assist swimmers with any problems they may encounter.
Three Country Day School students are learning the ropes from Dunton. As part of the school's "mini gusto" week, high school juniors Mark Allaire, Christian Nelthropp and Ronnie Rowe are spending time out of the classroom and in the community. "They will be directing the swim next year," Dunton predicted.
Helpers are still needed to hand out beverages and snacks at the aid stations that will be set up along the race routes on Sunday. Volunteers will receive an official triathlon T-shirt that's not available at retail outlets. For more information, call 773-4470.
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