Front Of The Pack

Ocala Triathletes Club leads the way

The Ocala Triathletes Club consists of people from all walks of life with varying degrees of athleticism. Although they may be different in many ways, in one way they are all the same—they deeply love their sport and want the world to know the benefits of being a triathlete. 

No matter how big or small, tall or short, athletic or unathletic, anyone (doctor permitting) can train for and compete in a triathlon. You may not finish first, and you may even finish last, but when it comes to triathlons, the benefits are in the training and the satisfaction that comes with finishing the race. 

What Is A Triathlon?

Club member Tim Reynolds is a seasoned triathlon veteran who is setting his sights on the Ironman World Championship held annually in Kona, Hawaii. He explains the sometimes-complicated sport of triathlon. 

“A traditional triathlon consists of a swim, then a bike and finishes with a run,” he says. “There are many variations with some being held off-road (Xterra), but the majority are held on paved roads. There are also drafting and non-drafting triathlons. Of these, there are four common distances, which are known as a Sprint, an Olympic, a 70.3 and a 140.6. The Sprint distance races are the shortest and vary from a 1/4- to 3/4-mile swim, an 8- to 15-mile bike ride and a 5K run. The Olympic race is a 1.5K (0.9-mile) swim, followed by a 40K (24.8-mile) bike into a 10K (6.2-mile) run. This is the type of race you will see during the Olympic Games. A 70.3-distance race consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike and a 13.1-mile run. When you add up the distances, you get the name, 70.3 miles. A 140.6 is a 2.4-mile swim into a 112-mile bike ride straight into a full marathon (26.2-mile run). For those who want even more of a challenge there are doubles, triples, etc.”

According to Tim, the Ironman competitions attract the most elite triathletes in the world.

“Ironman races are organized by the World Triathlon Corporation,” he says. “The races are typically 70.3- and 140.6-mile races. These are very high-quality races that culminate in the 140.6-non-drafting World Championship Triathlon. This year will mark the 40th anniversary for Ironman World Championship races, and every year it brings out the best professionals and age-group athletes in the sport. In order to compete in Hawaii, athletes must qualify to race. Usually only the top two or three finishers in the more than three dozen ‘regular season’ Ironman races held worldwide qualify, and for a lot of triathletes, this is the pinnacle of all racing events.”

Tim says that the sport is a very positive one and camaraderie among triathletes is high, especially in the Ocala club.  

“I became a triathlete after seeing how people embrace and cheer even when you are walking or in the back of the pack. It’s one of those sports where no matter how good or bad you are doing, people are going to tell you how great you are doing. The finish line at midnight of an Ironman 140.6 race is always alive with lights, music and people cheering. It’s a truly amazing and positive sport. Also, triathlon is open to anybody and everybody. If you think you can’t compete in a triathlon, you are wrong. Go out and volunteer at a race and you will be inspired by the diversity and the heart people have. It’s pretty amazing.” 

A Sense Of Community 

At the insistent urging of a colleague at BB&T Bank, Ocala resident Nicolas Blaser entered the Ocala 5K run in 2012. Even though he “hated running and was out of shape,” he began to train. Nicolas had at one time been an avid cyclist (he even owned his own bike shop), but he found he could barely run one mile without doubling over in pain. He persevered through three weeks of training, had a good finish in the race and got a “cool medal.”

“In just that short three weeks of training, I noticed physical and mental changes in myself that I liked,” he says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was hooked. I began to train more often and lost 35 pounds the first year. Soon I was cycling and running.”

Two years later he entered his first duathlon, which included only running and cycling. He found that he thrived on the competition, and in 2015, he signed up for his first triathlon, an Ironman competition in Augusta, Georgia. He performed well and has been racing in triathlons ever since. In March 2017, along with club members Erin Freel and Tim Reynolds, he formed the Ocala Triathletes Club. 

“We now have 53 members, and we’re always looking for more,” he says. Annual dues are $30 per individual and $45 per family. We have monthly membership meetings, the club raises money for local and national charities, and we are a member of the United States Triathlon Association (USAT).”

Nicolas says the club was formed for three primary reasons.

“We want to promote the sport of triathlon as a healthy way to live your life. We also want to provide athletic support to all triathletes, whether they are competing in their first triathlon or they are a seasoned competitor. And we really want to give back to our community in the form of charitable contributions.”

Nicolas says the rigors of competition have helped him physically, mentally and spiritually, and he wants others to share in the positive aspects of the sport.

“At 48 years of age, physically I’ve never been in better shape and mentally I’ve never been more confident about who I am and where I’m headed,” he says. “I wasn’t always happy on the inside, but now I am.” 

Triathlon Competition Is For Everyone

Weirsdale Ironman triathlete Erin Freel isn’t ashamed to admit that while growing up she was a “chubby, unathletic kid,” one of those children on the playground usually picked last when it came to team sports. Now, at 44 years old, she is anything but chubby and unathletic. In fact, when it comes to triathlons, she is most likely the one you’d pick first to be on your team. 

“As a kid, in my mind, I always felt that I was athletic; I loved being outside, and I even competed in a few track meets, but I was never really very good at it,” Erin says. “As I grew older, I knew I was overweight, but I always made the excuse that I was OK as long as I could still do the things I wanted to do. Then I began to notice that there were things I was avoiding. I wanted to go horseback riding, and I wanted to try other athletic things, but I was afraid they would check my weight. So, five months before my 40th birthday, I decided it was time to make a change.”

When she made the decision to lose weight, Erin was at her peak weight—239 pounds. She had read that losing two pounds per week on average was a healthy way to lose weight. Knowing she had 20 weeks until her 40th birthday, she calculated that she could lose 40 pounds. When her birthday arrived, she had lost 45 pounds. Did this satisfy Erin?

“I actually was mad at myself for not losing the weight sooner. It was easier than I thought once I made the decision to lose it, and I felt that I’d wasted a lot of time,” she says.

This type of drive led her to soon start competing in triathlons with her brother, Ryan, who was a seasoned triathlon competitor. The two trained together for her first formal competition, a sprint. 

“I was hooked,” she says. “Five years later, here I am, 100 pounds lighter and in the best physical shape of my life.”

Erin emphasizes that anyone can be a triathlete, even persons with limited physical abilities.  

“Making triathlon competition available to the disabled has been a passion of mine since we started this club,” she says. “Last year, our club donated $800 to the Kyle Pease Foundation. Kyle is disabled with cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia, and he is wheelchair bound. His brother, Brent, competes in triathlons while towing, biking and pushing Kyle along with him. The foundation the brothers have formed provides specialized equipment that enables people with all types of disabilities to compete in triathlons. We are presently partnering with the Special Olympics in Marion County and recently saw our first Special Olympic Ocala athlete, 13-year-old Adrienne Bunn, compete in her first triathlon in Clermont. The Special Olympics have been challenged to add triathlon to the sports lineup, and Marion County Special Olympics is leading the way. I am so excited about all of this. I want all people, no matter if they are able or disabled, to feel the excitement and exhilaration I feel when I’m in a race.”  

The Kyle Pease Foundation

The purpose of the Kyle Pease Foundation (KPF) is to create awareness and raise funds to promote success for persons with disabilities by providing assistance to meet their individual needs through sports.

Programs may include scholarship opportunities, purchasing of medical equipment or adaptive sports equipment for others or contributing to other organizations that provide similar assistance to disabled persons as well as participating in educational campaigns to create awareness about cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

KPF will provide these services directly to individuals and partner with other non-profit organizations to achieve these goals. Direct benefits will be limited to persons with disabilities who need adaptive sports equipment, mobility devices or medical care.


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