Armed Forces Day takes off with a race
Staff Sgt. Kristen Duus,
1st AD Public Affairs:
Hearts were beating a little faster inside the Replica Aquatic Center early Saturday morning.
“I am always excited; I love to train for races, but when you are about to start, my heart really starts to beat a little faster,” said Master Sgt. David Fairbanks, the Fort Bliss reserve component career counselor.
A 400-meter swim, 15-mile bike ride and five-kilometer run kicked off Armed Forces Day here. Nearly 220 racers lined up around the pool to participate in the triathlon. The first swimmer took off at 7 a.m., with 15 second increments before sending off each next swimmer. With so many racers, the last swimmer didn’t enter the pool for nearly 45 minutes. As swimmers lapped back and forth across the 50-meter pool, the line slowly dwindled.
After completing eight laps, racers moved outside to transition to the next event, a 15-mile bike ride that spanned Fort Bliss. Some bikers quickly put on extra layers of clothes, while others stayed in their swim gear for the next segment of the race. Many ran barefoot to the starting line, with their shoes already attached to the pedals of their bike. As the cyclists took off, they experienced flat tires and rogue pebbles caught in spokes. A few riders even crashed to the pavement.
Bikers returned from their 15-mile trek only to begin the five-kilometer run which lapped from Replica Aquatic Center to Cassidy Road and back. The first to cross the finish line was racer number five, Bobby Gonzales. He also had the overall fastest individual time of the race, finishing in one hour, three minutes, 17 seconds. The only time faster than Gonzales was a team, Team Crazy Cat, with a finishing time of 57 minutes, 56 seconds.
Runners pushed through under the blazing sun and gusty winds as the race took nearly three hours to conclude. Each racer was wearing a tracking bracelet to compute their exact times at each event, including transition times between events.
With so many participants, many racers had prior familiarity in events such as this. Fairbanks is an experienced athlete. He has been involved in racing for more than a decade.
“I have been racing for 14 years, so my body and mind remember how to race,” said Fairbanks. “But I try to swim three to four times a week. I taught spinning class at Soto Gym twice a week, and I might run one or two times a week – but short runs.”
Fairbanks completed the triathlon with the sixth fastest time, coming in at 1:09:01. He also finished first in his age division.
Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commander, was another noticeable face in the sea of racers. He was the second contestant to take to the water, just 15 seconds after 7 a.m. Pittard crossed the finish line with a total race time of 1:30:10.
A few steps behind Pittard at the finish was Capt. Amber Wagner, trial counselor for the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade. She’s also experienced in triathlons, with this being her fourth competition, but that didn’t make the event easy.
“For me, the most challenging part was the bike because I am new to cycling,” said Wagner. “While the course was flat, it was somewhat windy that morning, and that made it more challenging.”
From one team completing in less than an hour to a handful of individuals taking more than two hours, each participant crossed the finish line, exhausted but proud of what they just completed.
“I had a lot of pre-race anxiety,” said Wagner. “But it went away as soon as I started. I was happy to be done and I always feel very accomplished after a race.”
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