Four Saipan residents got their first taste of the Rota Blue Triathlon and relived their experience in last weekend's race.
“It was a great race. The course is majestic. Each leg of the race was its own special adventure. For the swim leg, the ocean was calm with easy rolling swells and crystal clear blue water. The next leg, bike, was my favorite. Other than two dips, the road was well-paved the whole way and engulfed by jungle with occasional ocean views. There were barely any cars on the road so it was much more peaceful and safe than what I am used to. The run was also along the ocean with plenty of shade from the towering trees lining the course,” said Sean Smith, who was one of the four first-timers in the annual race and was also the top finisher among the eight Saipan athletes who competed in the 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike, and 10K run.
Joining Smith in last Sunday's race were fellow newbies Jeff El-Hajj, Eileen Escudero-Wisor, and QuynhChi Nguyen and returnees Joshua Berger, Paul Plunkett, Daniel Calvo, and Florence Antonio.
“The best part of the triathlon experience was sharing it with seven other CNMI competitors. It was truly a team effort as each person contributed with making arrangements, transporting bodies and equipment, putting the bikes together, providing racing tips, and encouragement and just having a good time,” he added.
Smith was the No. 15 overall finisher out of 81 in the A type race after clocking in at 2:49:35 He completed the swim leg at the East Harbor in 43:12, timed in at 1:24:59 in the bike, and 41:24 in the run part to become Saipan's best finisher.
He could have had a better time if not for an early crash in the bike leg.
“I crashed within 5 minutes of starting the bike leg. I tried avoiding the dip in the road by jumping the curb to the side but I failed miserably. I received only minor injuries but I did take a hard shot to my pride. Right after I fell, I jumped back on the bike and kept going because that is what being a triathlete is all about,” he said.
The three other first-timers had crash-free races and same stories to tell.
“It is a must do race if you live in the CNMI. This was my first triathlon so I had no expectations and would have been happy to just finish the race. The entire event was very well organized and we had perfect weather on race day. There were over 160 competitors so we got to meet a lot of great athletes and friendly people from both Japan and Rota. Also, I ended up beating all my goal times for each event, so I couldn't have been more elated by the end,” said Nguyen, who finished the race in 4:15:26.
She added she loved the swim leg the most.
“The swim was my favorite, beautiful blue water, perfect temperature and amazingly clear visibility, over 100 feet deep and you could see all the way to the bottom,” said Nguyen who timed in at 51:23 in the swim leg. “The bike leg was long and a little grueling on the uphill, but we got a view of the pretty coastline the entire way. The run was really nice with some parts through shady jungle and other parts along a cliff line with a view of the ocean and wedding cake mountain.”
El-Hajj posted the second fastest time among the newbies with his 2:58:50, but had the best time in the swim leg at 29:22.
“The swim leg was relatively calm with approximately 50 foot visibility to the bottom of the lagoon,” said El-Hajj, who recorded 1:27:57 and 1:03:31 in the bike and run legs.
Escudero-Wisor enjoyed both the swim and bike legs before getting into trouble early in the run part.
“My legs felt like cement when I started the run but loosened up around mile 3,” she said. “ It was a beautiful weekend with great people and tons of encouragement and support. I would love to spend more time on Rota.”
Meanwhile, the leader of the Saipan group, Berger, registered the fifth fastest time on the team with his 3:04:29 (39:16/1:28:39/56:34), while Antonio (2:55:07) placed second behind Smith. Plunkett came in at fourth (No. 26 overall) with his 3:03:01, while Calvo submitted 3:15:57 (No. 47). Japan's Tomokazu Fukushima was the overall top finisher with a time of 2:13:14.
“Congratulations to the Saipan Team, everyone did great! Special thanks to Joshua Berger for being the best coach these last three months and to Florence Antonio for being our awesome bike mechanic during the race weekend,” Nguyen said.