The sun was still an hour below the horizon when the first load of triathletes filed out of their trolley on a chilly Saturday morning at the south end of Wrightsville Beach. Trolley after trolley followed and the 414 competitors in the full PPD Beach2Battleship Iron Distance triathlon lined the intersection of South Lumina Avenue and Jack Parker Boulevard.
For many, the hour-and-a-half wait until the 7:30 a.m. start was the hardest part of the day. Competitors attempted to pass the time with idle conversations with those around them.
Friends Steven Warden and Sean Maher from Pequannock, N.J., were excited for the balmy conditions forecasted for the day. Maher, competing in the Beach2Battleship for the second time, had recommended that Warden join him this year based on the experience he had last year.
“The course and the organization are just so good for this event, and Set Up Events does a fantastic job,” Maher said.
When the wait passed and the competitors began to gather in the starting area on the shores of the south end in Banks Channel, Stephanie Smith of Wilmington said the positive energy and camaraderie shared was the best part of this event.
As the 10-second countdown began, friends and family members cheered, rang cowbells and held up signs wishing the competitors well. Seconds later the crowd of excited triathletes thundered down the beach and dove headlong into the water. The race was on.
Eight hours and 59 minutes later, Tom Wood of Buckhannon, W.Va., was the first competitor to cross the finish line on Water Street for the overall full distance. Patrick Farwell, a part-time lifeguard with Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue, came in second place, and Peter Kotland from Moore, S.C. came in third place.
For the overall women’s full distance, Maria Lopez from Tampa, Fla. rounded out the top three at 10 hours and 32 minutes. Coming in second about five minutes ahead of Lopez was Carrie McCoy, from Gahanna, Ohio, who had to immediately be treated for a biking injury after she crossed the finish line.
Dee Atkins from Duncan, S.C. came in first at 9 hours and 59 minutes. Medical volunteers had to rush to her aid because of exhaustion and stress after the all-day event.
Such occurrences are not uncommon in strenuous races like these, and dozens of volunteers and paid professionals comprised the quick response teams throughout the course, said Eileen McConville, medical coordinator for the event.
“We had several cyclists go down, she said. “Many got back on their bikes and continued while several had to be transported to the hospital.We also have a mobile hospital on site, staffed by nurses, paramedics, physicians and respiratory therapists.”
After the race, the champion Wood said this was his fifth Iron Man distance race and that Beach2Battleship is one of his favorites. Although Wood said that the only mishap he had was missing the special needs station during the bike ride, his race to finish first was surreal.
“It feels so good, better than I thought it would,” he said. “It’s such a long day; you can really find out a lot about yourself and how you handle adversity because a lot can go wrong up until the 17-hour cutoff time, but a lot can go right.”