MIGHTY NORTH FORK SPRINT TRIATHLON
The thing about competing in a triathlon is an athlete may not always know when a competitor has his sights set on him. For example, Ryan Siebert of Patchogue might have felt good about his chances of winning the 15th annual Mighty North Fork Sprint Triathlon on Sunday morning when he passed last year’s winner and the first person to complete the opening swim phase, Rod McClave of New York City, during the eight-mile bike ride. But, lo and behold, with about a half-mile to go in the three-and-a-half-mile run, Siebert himself was passed by Shawn Fitzgerald of Cutchogue, who won the whole thing.
The 39-year-old Fitzgerald, a runner-up last year, clocked a time of 50 minutes 23 seconds at Cedar Beach in Southold. Siebert came in second at 51:01.
“I thought I had it,” said Siebert, who was chasing what would have been his third Mighty North Fork title.
Some may have wondered where in the world Fitzgerald came from. The 28th athlete to complete the 500-meter swim in Peconic Bay, Fitzgerald had a lot of ground to make up. He clocked the sixth-fastest bike time of 18:04, but the running phase is when he made his greatest gain. Running, Fitzgerald said, is his strength, and it showed. He produced the second-fastest run of the morning, 20:55, to run away with his first triathlon victory.
“I can’t swim, but I can run,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who sliced nearly a minute off his time from last year’s race, said he was pleasantly surprised with his win. “It validates all the hard work behind the scenes, so it’s a tremendous feeling,” he said.
Siebert has had to deal with some adversity recently. In addition to tending to ankle and knee injuries, he said he was clipped a couple of weeks ago by a truck while training on a bike.
“I’ve had a rough month,” he said.
Perhaps it threw off his training a little. Then again, don’t discount Fitzgerald’s late kick. “I turned around and didn’t see him,” Siebert said, “and then, all of a sudden, a half-mile to go, he just flew by me.”
Benjamin Pucci of Seaford moved into third place in 51:38, ahead of the fourth-place Mike Merlo of Miller Place (52:06).
Jenn Place, 39, of New York City is making a habit of winning the women’s race. She triumphed for the second year in a row and the fourth time in six years, turning in a time of 55:13.
“This is such a short race, you just have to go hard from the beginning,” Place said. “You can’t pace yourself here. There’s no time for that.”
Pushing her the whole way was the second-place woman, Patti Thorp of Boston (56:08).
“Patti, she’s a tough competitor,” Place said. “I admire her very much. I knew she was right behind me and I know how strong she is.”
Kelly Pickard of Oyster Bay (1:00:02) was third and fourth went to Vicki Edwards of Mattituck (1:01:11).
Place had a couple of motivating factors. For one thing, she coaches triathletes herself.
“How can I tell them how to win if I’m not doing well?” she asked.
Another big motivator, though, was the fear that this might be the last Mighty North Fork Sprint Triathlon. Concern had been expressed over the Town of Southold permitting next year’s event from happening because of a town law prohibiting races by for-profit organizations.
“Knowing that this could possibly be the last time I get to do this race, I just felt like I really have to win,” said Place.
Corey Roberts, the athlete experience guide for EventPower Long Island, the organizer of the race, said, “There’s not a concern that it’s going to be the last year, but there’s definitely some work to be done on our permitting for next year.” He added, “I think the town’s going to see what kind of an event company we are.”
Roberts said the event is a boost to the local economy. He also said that a food drive by the athletes, as well as donations by Fairway Market, have brought over a pallet of food that will be provided to Community Action Southold Town. “It shows that the athletes have a genuine passion for the town and the event,” said Roberts.
According to Roberts, just under 600 athletes entered the race. Three hundred and ninety-four individual competitors completed it.
What was his assessment of this year’s event?
“Phenomenal,” he said. “Every year is a phenomenal year. We have a beautiful place to hold the event. I mean, it’s stunning.”