PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Right up until an hour before the start, Sarah Gahagan was not planning to participate in Tri Aroostook on Saturday.
A combination of a shoulder injury from a bicycling accident coupled with a serious allergic reaction to bee stings on Thursday had left her doubtful of her ability to compete, much less complete the inaugural running of the event.
“I could not walk at all this morning,” Gahagan said Saturday afternoon, pointing at her ankles, which were red, puffy and dotted with the bee-sting marks. “But when I got here this morning and saw everyone getting marked and ready, I knew I had to do it.”
Gahagan, of Mapleton, had registered for the event weeks ago and, despite her injuries, went on to post the fastest women’s time to claim first place in 1 hour, 5 minutes, 59 seconds.
Caribou’s Shawn Berry took the top men’s spot and overall first place, finishing in under an hour with a time of 58:04.
Ninety-nine racers had preregistered for the event, in which they swam 535 yards, biked 10.25 miles and ran 3.1 miles either as an individual or part of a relay team.
The top relay team was The Pokeys with Meredith Stewart, Hal Stewart and Trey Stewart, all of Presque Isle, with a time of 1:10:05.23.
Temperatures started off high Saturday when the first wave of swimmers took to the pool at the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Gentile Hall and rose steadily and flirted with the low 90s by the time the final runner came over the finish line just after 11 a.m.
After completing the swim portion, racers were directed to the “transition area” behind the gym where their bikes were waiting and began the 10.25-mile ride looping south down U.S. Route 1, around the Chapman Road and back to UMPI, where the bikes were stowed back in the transition area and racers then moved on to the university’s running trails and finished on the soccer field.
“I could have had a faster swim,” Gahagan said. “During the run portion I thought I was near the finish twice and really kicked it in those times and that probably helped me finish stronger than I would have thought.”
Other than a few athletes being treated for mild dehydration and other heat-related conditions, the event was injury-free.
“It was a huge success and I am just blown away by the athletes, the volunteers and all the fans and family who came out to cheer them on,” race director and organizer Jonathan Kelly said. “As a first-time race it totally exceeded my expectations.”
In addition to being a United States Triathlon Association-sanctioned event, Tri-Aroostook also was a fundraiser for the local breast cancer awareness program and raised more than $4,000.
“I wanted to bring triathlon to Aroostook County,” Kelly said. “And I wanted it to also be that fundraiser.”
Moreover, Kelly said participating in events like a triathlon help promote healthy and active lifestyles.
“I am just so thankful to have a healthy body,” Gahagan said. “I thank God every day that I can do things like this.”
The event drew racers from around Maine, New Brunswick and as far away as Boston.
“It was awesome,” Denise Landry-Nadeau, of Edmundston, New Brunswick, said. “It was really a satisfying thing to do and I love being out there racing where you are on your own and can do your own thing.
Landry-Nadeau, 51, ended with a time of 1:22:16.3 to take first place in her age group in only her second-ever triathlon.
“Now I’m hooked,” she said.
The race held special meaning for relay team member Rollande Vaillancourt of Fort Kent, a breast cancer survivor who was recently declared cancer-free after her diagnosis two years ago and a lengthy course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Vaillancourt completed the swim-portion of the race for her team DOC Propane, and said she was pleased with her steady pace and time of 12:42.0.
“You just have to say you can do it,” she said of entering the race. “It’s all about having a positive attitude and that can really keep you going.”
With teammates Samantha Morneault and Sonya Dechene, the DOC Propane team came in 1:34:44.24.
“This was a great race with great support,” Dechene said. “It was for a really good cause and was a great way to challenge yourself outside of the box.”
It’s that challenge that draws people to triathlons, Kelly said.
“It’s challenging in a different way,” he said. “Maybe you can swim or bike or run, but when you put that all together it’s really something.”
A complete list of finishing times is available at www.triaroostook.com.