PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Tri Aroostook made its debut last summer, 95 percent of the 100 participants told organizers it was their first-ever triathlon.
“That was incredible to hear,” event coordinator Jonathan Kelley said. “We were really trying to bring the sport of triathlon to [Aroostook] County and especially wanted to get our youth interested in it.”
Kelley and his crew of volunteers are bringing Tri Aroostook back this summer with the race set for Saturday, June 29, at the University of Maine-Presque Isle.
Triathlons include three legs — swimming, bicycling and running.
Tri Aroostook is a USA Triathlon Association-sanctioned sprint race in which competitors swim 525-yards in UMPI’s indoor pool; bike a 10.25-mile loop on county roads and end with a 5-kilometer run on the UMPI running trails.
Participants can enter as individuals or part of a two- or three-person relay team in which one member of the team completes one or two of the race legs.
“Pretty much everything about the course is the same as last year,” Kelley said. “We got a lot of positive feedback from everyone.”
The race is capped at 125 participants and so far 69 have registered from around Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec, he said.
Racers must be members of the USATA, and one-day memberships are available the day of the race for a $12 fee.
The beauty of triathlons in general and Tri Aroostook in particular, according to Kelley, is that they allow participants to challenge themselves.
“A lot of people get turned off thinking they have to race,” he said. “You don’t have to be fast or good at any one particular part; you just need to challenge yourself.”
Entering a triathlon, Kelley said, can be a great motivator.
“For a lot of people a 5K [race] is the first thing they do that gets them off the couch,” he said. “Then they want to do do a 10K, then maybe try to ski or bike, and now all of a sudden they are looking for that next challenge.”
As such, triathlons often attract athletes of all levels.
“In the bigger races I’ve done down south, you see every shape and size of athlete of different abilities and goals all giving it their all,” he said. “This really is a sport for everyone [because] you can be any shape or size and still participate and you are going to have just as good as time as everyone else.”
That is a philosophy Kelley is hoping to spread to young and old throughout northern Maine and it is taking off with triathlon clubs popping up in some towns and with a Redy , Set, Let’s Go Youth Triathlon set for this fall.
Kelley has made one change to this year’s event with the addition of a weight category for registrants.
“When you register, you can indicate if you want to be in an age division or weight division,” he said. “A lot of heavier men or women don’t have an opportunity to be competitive in age groups so a lot of races recognized this and created the weight classes of ‘Athena’ and ‘Clydesdale.’”
The categories are not meant to denote any negative body image, Kelley stressed.
“This is another way to increase participation and encourage people to give this a try and experience that feeling of satisfaction that comes from crossing the finish line,” he said.
Part of what made Tri Aroostook so memorable for many participants, Kelley said, was the encouragement offered by fellow athletes to novice runners on the course.
“We don’t just finish the race and leave,” he said. “We go back out there and cheer everyone on whether they are family, friends or strangers.”
There is still plenty of time to get ready for Tri Aroostook, according to Kelley.
“If you are able to get into a pool twice a week, get on a road bike twice a week and start to run twice a week, you’ll be set,” he said. “And for people still apprehensive we encourage them to make it a fun event and form a relay team with friends or family.”
Organizers are also still looking for volunteers to help out on race day, Kelley added.