WINONA LAKE — Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the Warsaw Optimist Triathlon, and for overall champion Robby Chalfant, it was also a homecoming.
The Optimist Club’s annual sprint triathlon was the first such event Chalfant ever raced in, nine years ago. Since relocating from Warsaw to Boulder, Colorado three years ago to train full time, he’s since turned pro, and he returned Saturday to race with the man who first inspired him to take up triathlons all those years ago, six-time Optimist tri winner Scott Erba. Erba set a personal-best 1:00.51 on his way to second-place overall, while Chalfant set a new course record with a blistering 58:39 in the hot, muggy conditions at Winona Lake Park, and it all added up to one special day for the champ.
“I just haven’t been home in awhile, and Scott and I always chat. Actually, he was my idol when I did this nine years ago. I was a big fan, and I asked him a lot of questions and he was always super fit. We just stayed in touch, and I asked him if he was racing this again. He said yeah, and I wanted to come home and race with him,” explained Chalfant.
“Today was awesome to stand on the podium with that guy. We both crushed it. It was a special day.”
Chalfant’s specialty is on the bike, and his 31:58 over the 14.4-mile bike ride — the fastest ride of the day following an 8:16 time in the quarter-mile swim — put him in position to break the tape at Saturday’s race. A 19:09 time in the 3.6-mile run was more than good enough to hold off the field with the sun still climbing and temperatures steadily rising around Winona Lake.
“In Colorado, you really focus on the bike a lot. You’re just constantly climbing elevation, and you’re just kind of grinding up a lot of mountains,” said Chalfant. “Today I wanted to have a really good swim, some fast transitions, but I really wanted to hammer the bike. The run was going to be the run; I knew it was going to be hot. I don’t train in humidity any more. That was a weakness for me today. I suffered just with three and a half miles, but I was pretty happy with the swim-bike combo, and then the run actually turned out decent enough.”
Decent enough indeed. Only one athlete ran a faster final leg of the tri as Erba clocked 18:53 on his way to overall runner-up honors. Shanna Bonnell turned in a 1:08.29 total time, meanwhile, with splits of 10:15, 38:14 and 20:44 to earn the women’s overall championship. Full results for the race can be found here.
There were some changes to this year’s event, most notably in the swim portion, where buoys marked the course in lieu of the pontoon boats used in the past. Erba hand-made each of the trophies for the various overall and age group winners, and a total of 384 participants turned out to Saturday’s sprint triathlon despite the hot and humid conditions.
“The 25th anniversary is a big year for us. We’ve been really excited to have people. We had 384 participants this year, so it was great,” said race director Paula Deming.
“I love the race. This was my first race I ever did as a triathlete. I have completed many Ironmans and many halfs and other races since then. This has just been really important in my heart, and I’m glad I have the opportunity now to be able to affect some change and see it grow.”
And the growth of the annual event has translated into more opportunities for the youth of Kosciusko County, with all proceeds going back to support young people around the county.
“The Optimist Club is all about the youth and helping youth in the community. That outreach is for children that might have some difficulties, whether it’s a physical or a language issue, to help give to those people. Also to help kids be safe, give back to the community for bike safety and all different things within the community,” explained Deming.
“All the money that we raise in the Optimist Club, every dollar that we raise off this event, we give back to kids in our community. We’re proud to be able to do that for our community,” echoed assistant race director Adam Heckaman.