Swimming … Running … Biking … Oh my! Fort Bliss, community show mettle at Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon
Sgt. Robert Larson,
24th Press Camp Headquarters:
Swimming, biking and running: These are fitness activities that most people do individually. These three events formed the challenge of the inaugural Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon, in which more than 270 servicemembers, families and civilians participated here Sept. 29.
Starting at the Replica Aquatic Center, competitors swam 400 meters, biked 17.2 miles to the far reaches of East Fort Bliss, and ended back at the Replica pool after completing a five-kilometer run through the buildings of historic West Fort Bliss.
The participants ranged from triathlon veterans like El Paso local James “Flip” Lyle, who currently holds the world record for triathlons at 305 and counting, to Katarzyna Hefflefinger who was convinced to participate in the Iron Soldier by friends here at Fort Bliss, while her husband, Adam, attends the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy.
“I wasn’t looking for competition, I just wanted to try to finish a triathlon,” said Hefflefinger.
The new race was open to all servicemembers, family members and the El Paso community. Many of the competitors came out because Iron Soldier is the newest race of its type in the area. Erica Imhoff, a former Naval officer who was in town for a wedding, saw the advertisements for the race and decided to compete.
“This is the first Iron Soldier triathlon and I wanted to be a part of it,” Imhoff said.
Imhoff also said she was using the Iron Soldier to prepare for an Olympic-level triathlon later this month.
The Iron Soldier is now the second triathlon conducted at Fort Bliss, joining the Armed Forces Day Triathlon run in May. Aaron Jones, sports director for Fort Bliss, said he had intended to start the fall triathlon last year, but repairs to Replica Aquatic Center kept that from happening.
With this being a high-profile event, Jones was also concerned with the weather on race day, as El Paso was hit with heavy rains the day before. With clear skies and cool morning temperatures, he had only wet roads to worry about.
“Athletes are a fickle bunch,” said Jones. “They want to know that you are doing it right.”
According to Lyle, it is his intention to include the Iron Soldier in his Southwest Challenge series. The Armed Forces Day race is already a part of the local race series.
“I am so grateful to [Maj. Gen. Dana J. H.] Pittard and all of Fort Bliss for bringing these races back and letting us civilians come and play with the Soldiers,” Lyle said.
From Brian Lujan, 13, the youngest competitor, to Richard Parks, 75, competitors gave it their all. There was a friendly camaraderie among the participants.
“People get to test themselves in events like this,” said Brandon Ganstad, a retired sergeant major from Fort Bliss and the overall race winner. “They get a great sense of accomplishment. It was an awesome race today.”
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