The Abington Heights Health/Physical Education Department’s 32nd Annual Triathlon will be held on Thursday, May 8, with a rain date of Friday, May 9.

There are three different events that make up the triathlon, including a five-mile bike ride, a canoe trip across Ford’s Pond, and a five-mile run back to the school.

There is a team competition and an Ironman competition. In the Ironman competition, athletes do all three events by themselves. In the team competition, each team will consist of one biker, two persons for the canoe portion and two runners, each running for 2.5 miles. Pictured are scenes from previous years’ events.

There are two ways student-athletes approach the Abington Heights Health/Physical Education Department’s annual triathlon, which will be held for the 32nd time next Thursday, May 8.

“Some people take it seriously and others go out to be with their friends,” said Cleve Elmy, who has been involved with the triathlon since 1999, including the past six years as event coordinator. “It promotes an active lifestyle, but it is also a little bit competitive.”

The triathlon began in 1983, long enough for past participants to be involved in organizing and coordinating the triathlon as adults. Despite the passage of more than 30 years, what remains the same is the level of intensity among the “Ironmen,” the name given to those individuals who choose to tackle the course on their own.

“For the most part, with the Ironmen, who do the five miles of biking, the canoe portion across Ford’s Pond and the five miles running back to the school all by themselves, you get the more competitive kids,” Elmy said. “They’re all trying to top their times from the previous year.”

About 400 students are expected to compete in this year’s event, many of whom were lured in by the video presentation organizers have put together to show to freshmen who might not have heard about it beforehand. Elmy said that most participants get hooked on the event as ninth graders and stay involved in the competition as sophomores, juniors and seniors and, because of that, there is a camaraderie that carries on through the years, giving the event a freshness for first-time participants and also a comfortable feel for those who are back for the second, third or fourth year.

The Abington Heights Triathlon is a cooperative effort supported by the Abington Heights Food Service Department, Clarks Summit Pizza Hut and the Abington Heights High School Student Council, which has donated $480 for the rental of 10 canoes. Elmy explained that the entire Health/Physical Education department organizes the triathlon, including Mike Ludka, Bryan Weber, Joe Repshis, Moira Hair, Kristen Rude and Lisa Dorunda, and credits the combined effort of his department’s staff, along with the rest of the school and local community, for the event’s success.

Both the Ironmen and the team competitors, who are five-person teams made up of one biker, two canoeists and two runners, who each run 2.5 miles, have pride in their finish times, knowing that they’ll be back the next year. For the seniors who know that this year is the last time they will participate in the event, they might have a “last chance” mentality.

“They go off together [by grade],” Elmy said. For safety, security and ease of scheduling we like to schedule each class separately. The administration, secretaries and human resource officer all have schedules in case of an emergency. Even though the event is scheduled by classes, the students who are taking part in the triathlon report back to the field house to get their T-shirt and have lunch with students from the other grades. For example, all the Ironmen, both males and females, from freshmen to seniors go off first and they all socialize and eat their lunch together in the field house before reporting back to class. All of our student volunteers are a mixture of all grades and include both males and females. I believe that they are part of the many reasons why the triathlon has been so successful.”

Going off together adds a level of competitiveness as friends battle for bragging rights as they vie to complete the circuit in the fastest time possible. The five-mile bike ride goes downhill and, after the canoe trip, the five miles that make up the running portion that concludes the event are uphill.

The 10-plus mile circuit unites the competitors, giving all who complete the course the same sense of satisfaction, knowing they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Elmy himself was hooked by the event as a substitute teacher at Abington Heights during the 1980s and 1990s and is still amazed by the students’ zeal for the competition year after year.

“The triathlon promotes lifetime fitness and is a continuation and culmination of what we strive to do in our daily health and physical education classes,” Elmy said. “The excitement that the triathlon brings each year for our school is contagious — everyone loves being a part of it.”

Abington Suburban sports writer Dave Lauriha contributed to this report.