Thirty-One Years Strong
Hard to believe that it has been 30 years since Abington Heights High School students first got the opportunity to compete in a triathlon.
Lisa Dorunda, now a teacher in the health and physical education department, which organizes the triathlon - held for the 31st time today, Thursday, May 9 - fondly remembers her own experiences in the triathlon as a participant.
"It was an exciting way to spend time with my friends during the school day, while participating in an activity off campus," Dorunda said. "My favorite memory was the competition between classmates that developed into a rivalry the following years."
This year, nearly 400 athletes will continue the tradition of attacking the biking, canoeing and running parts that make up the triathlon. Dorunda pointed out the events have remained the same for entire history of the race, with one exception when Ford's Pond was drained for repair to the dam and the triathlon featured a swimming portion in a pool in place of the canoeing leg.
Most, if not all, of the students have seen a video presentation that has been held over the years to drum up interest. For the most part, once a student decides to compete, they continue to participate until they graduate.
"It was a lot of fun my freshman year, so I decided to keep doing it," said junior Sam Vale. "Last year I wanted to test my will and a lot of my friends were Ironmaning it, so I decided I'd try it too."
Ironmaning refers to those competitors who choose to do all three events themselves, making for a long and grueling test of stamina and mental toughness. There is a team event, in which groups of five-person teams complete the circuit in relay fashion. Dorunda was part of such a team that consisted of some of her basketball teammates at Abington Heights.
There are serious competitors and others that enter for the camaraderie. Vale falls into both categories.
"I go there to have fun and a good time. If you win, that's great; if you lose, you don't care," Vale said. "But I want to break an hour."
It hasn't turned into an obsession as Vale, who said he finished in about one hour and 20 minutes last year, makes sure the event remains a relaxing thing to do.
"I really don't prepare," said Vale, who plays football, swims and is on the tennis team. "I run a lot, and go for bike rides, but I don't try to think about it until I get there."
As this year's event approached, Vale began to remember how he fared in 2012, recalling how he felt and the sense of pride for having completed the course as a solo competitor.
"Sophomore year, I wanted to push myself," said Vale, who was part of a team as a freshman. "Five miles running is pretty tough. It's hard to do the Ironman."
It's a challenge he chose to accept again this year, and he understands what his biggest challenge will be.
"Biking is all downhill and you run uphill all the way back," Vale said. "The hardest part is the canoeing. It's not made for one person; it's hard to row on both sides to keep you going straight, or else you'll go without any direction. Trying to go straight isn't the easiest thing to do."
The ultimate goal for many triathletes is the Ironman competition held in Hawaii, where the distances are extended in a rugged test of endurance.
"[You spend] 100 miles biking, [then] swimming for 5 miles and then you have to run a marathon," Vale said. "You have to have endurance and I don't think I'd make it."
This triathlon is not as long, but the same sense of discipline is there, and that is among the things that Abington Heights head football coach Joe Repshis loves about the event, the internal struggle of overcoming the aches and pains of the body to achieve the goal of finishing the race.
"I think it would have been intense to take part in something like this," said Repshis, who has been involved in the event for seven years. "It's an opportunity to challenge yourself, away from the playing field in a way, and it's something to do that's enjoyable."
He has seen students prepare for this event for some time now, and yet still is a little amazed at the volume of interest in the race.
"The interest level of the students is remarkable," Repshis said. "To see how much they put into it, from designing team T-shirts to coming up with team names."
Such interest continues to expand the event's tradition, add to its lore and keep it growing for future generations of Abington Heights students to enjoy.