Valley athletes participate in Tri-Aroostook

5 July 2012

AROOSTOOK COUNTY – On a sunny, 80-degree Saturday, approximately 78 racers gathered to participate in the first USA Triathlon-sponsored triathlon event in Aroostook County, held at the University of Maine at Presque Isle on June 30. This was a sprint event that summoned racers from as far away as Boston, with over 13 racers hailing from the St. John Valley, on both sides of the border.

John Pluto of Van Buren, Van Buren native Karen LeBlanc, and Denise Landry Nadeau of Edmundston all placed in their respective divisions. The event organizers awarded a trophy to the top two finishers in each age division. Both women took first place and Pluto took second in his division. Sarah Toner- Morrison of Grand Falls, Sandra Caron of Fort Kent, Patricia Dubois of Fort Kent, and Fort Kent native Doug Charette all came in third in their divisions.

Sarah Gahagan of Presque Isle, the overall female winner with a time of one hour, seven minutes, and 59 seconds and the fifth place finisher in the entire field of 78 racers, has had an accident-prone year, but it failed slow her down during the race.

Gahagan made the final decision to follow through with her pre-registration with less than an hour to go before the start of the race. Gahagan, who runs events for the Presque Isle Recreation Department in the summer, was stung once on Thursday and twice on Friday, causing her ankles to swell alarmingly and precipitating a visit to the emergency room on Friday night. She said she was finally ready to race, with all of her gear assembled and all the pre-registration tasks finished, at 7:40 a.m.

The race started at 8 a.m.

She said it was the energy of the race start and the particular challenges of a triathlon that caused her to change her mind about racing at the very last moment.

“I love this,” she said. “I love the energy and the combination of the three different sports. I just got fired up.”

Gahagan said 2012 has also featured a biking accident two months previous to the race, which injured her shoulder and delayed training for the swim portion of the triathlon event, and a car accident earlier this year.

“I have lots of great women friends who said “I’m glad you’re not doing it,” while I secretly loaded all my stuff,” she said, chuckling.

She added, “I’m so happy I did it. I would have been kicking myself. I’m thanking the Lord he gave me a healthy body.”

Overall winner Shawn Berry of Presque Isle with a personal record finish time of 58 minutes and four seconds said the event was “by far the best organized [small event] I’ve ever been to.”

He was modest about his substantial three to four minute lead over the next finisher and said, “I don’t expect something great to happen [going into the race], but when it does, it’s great.”

Berry is a veteran triathlete who has raced all over New England in a total of 20 to 30 events over the last five or six years. He has plans to run in one or two more triathlons downstate this year as well.

At the finish line, Julia Bayly of Fort Kent, dog sled musher, freelance writer and photographer, and now triathlete said, “I’m so inspired by people that do this. I cannot believe I did it. If I can do it, so can you.”

She added, “Now I know how my poor sled dogs feel.”

She ran this race in memory of her late husband, Patrick Ouellette, and one of her University of Maine at Fort Kent mentors, Professor Lowell Daigle, who both passed away from cancer.

Bayly thanked her teammate, Terry Kelly of Mapleton, who completed the swim portion for their team and the race organizers, especially Jonathan Kelley, the man who had the dream of an Aroostook County triathlon, the primary fundraiser for the Pink Aroostook event, and event Chief. Kelley organized the event in memory of his father, who also passed away from cancer.