SYRACUSE — D.J. Hanback made a glorious return to the field, while women’s winner Kristen Long won her first-ever Wawasee Kiwanis Triathlon after only barely deciding to race at the last moment at the 12th annual running of the sprint triathlon Saturday in Syracuse.
It was Hanback’s second overall men’s title at the Wawasee tri but first since taking a four-year hiatus from racing. The South Bend resident clocked a field-best 36:00.7 over the 13.49-mile bike portion of the event, which winds around Syracuse Lake and Maxwelton Golf Course, on his way to a 1:05.57.9 time to beat out male 25-29 age group winner Tyler Peterson of Middlebury and his 1:06.53.7 time.
When he crossed the finish line first, Hanback pumped his first and exclaimed “Pretty good for 50!”
“I won this race about five years ago, and then we adopted my daughter four years ago so I’ve kind of been not racing so much. So it was nice to come back here. Very glorious return,” he said.
For Hanback, who only returned to serious training a year ago, Saturday’s Syracuse tri was a tune-up for a more personal race — the Barron Lake Triathlon scheduled for Aug. 24 in Niles, Mich. That race, which is held in honor of a deceased friend of Hanback’s, raises money to help Michiana youth get involved in sports regardless of physical, mental and financial barriers to inclusion.
“I was really coming out to use this as a tune-up. My buddy passed away from brain cancer, and we have a race up in Niles, Mich. — Barron Lake Triathlon — and it’s for him,” he said.
“It’s a great event, and we have a foundation. We give money to kids that go to camps, that can’t afford to go to camps for disabilities. It’s great.”
With family celebrations throughout the weekend, including her parents’ 50th anniversary and her cousin’s birthday celebration, Long — last year’s female Masters winner — had nearly talked herself out of returning to Saturday’s race up until about 10:30 Friday night. That’s when the Winona Lake resident’s mother finally convinced her to go. And, of course, Long was happy she did.
“I actually wasn’t going to do the triathlon today. I signed up, and I was like ‘Eh, I don’t feel like it.’ Because I had family parties and all that this whole weekend, and then my mom convinced me to just do it,” she recalled.
“My cousin’s birthday is always this weekend, so while everybody is having fun and having a good time Friday and Saturday, I’m usually like ‘Oh, I’m going to do a triathlon,’ so it ruins my Friday night and then I’m tired by Saturday night.”
Long clocked a 1:21.38.9, including a field-best 9:34.2 in the quarter-mile swim, on her way to her first-ever overall title in roughly eight years of running the event.
“Before the triathlon, I’m like ‘I don’t have to. I signed up, but it’s for a good cause.’ But I know that every time I end up doing it, I’m so glad I did. I feel good now,” she said.
Saturday’s races brought out 100 triathletes and another 25-30 runners for the third annual 5K. Goshen’s Elmer Schlaban set the pace in the 3.1-mile run with an 18:42.4 stop, while Cromwell’s Brandi Niles broke tape in the women’s 5K with a time of 21:46.0. The turnout was an increase of around 30 participants from last year, with the money going right back to the Wawasee Kiwanis organization and ultimately back into the community.
“I love this event,” stated race director Lauren Warner. “Sprint triathlons are the perfect distance, in my opinion. Even if you don’t want to do the whole thing, you can form a team and just do one of the events. It’s a great way to give people the chance to be active but also to show off Syracuse Lake and Lakeside Park, which are great features of our town. This event also helps us raise money to give directly back to charities or other organizations in town. That’s always our group’s main focus — being able to give back to Syracuse in any way we can.”
My Team Triumph — a ride-along program designed to give people with disabilities a chance to experience endurance events — brought out a total of four teams to this year’s event in Captains Nona, Daniel, Morgan and Gambit.
“I love having them. They’re like my favorite part of it, so we always encourage them to come down,” said Warner. “Barb Martz is our contact, and she’s amazing. My Team Triumph, I think everyone loves seeing them finish. I think the other runners really enjoy having them around, so I hope they enjoy it.”
The Wawasee tri and 5K wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of a number of area first responders, and the Wawasee High School girls soccer and football teams volunteered to make sure the event went smoothly as well.
“We couldn’t do this event without our volunteers; not just our Kiwanis group, but the first responders that give their time to provide coverage for the event,” Warner stated. “Our local police and fire department, EMS team, and the Kosciusko County dive team all help make this event possible and provide a high quality safety aspect for our athletes. The girls high school soccer team and the high school football team have also provided intersection coverage for us for years, which is a huge help.”