For the 20th year in a row, the local community will participate in the Annual Steelhead Triathlon Sept. 6, beginning at Irwin Pool on Fort Huachuca.
Whether racing or standing on the sidelines showing support, one can’t help but feel a sense of patriotism throughout the event. For many, it is more than just a race or a personal accomplishment — it is also a hometown sports competition. Participating on a military installation adds value to the term “community.”
Susan Bacal, a participant in the first Steelhead Triathlon, explained that she couldn’t believe it when she realized the triathlon is in its 20th year.
“It’s so great. It’s very rare for a race to last that long,” she said. “And a lot of military people participate in the race, so that’s a lot of fun. You get the patriotic aspect of it all. I love running next to Soldiers. It doesn’t make me not want to kick their butts [in the race] but I love it.”
A modern triathlon consists of swimming, biking and running designed to test the endurance of its participants, much more so than swimming, biking or running alone.
The first-ever triathlon on Fort Huachuca, which was held in 1994, was part of the “Summer Series” of events made up of the Hog Dog mountain bike race, the 2-10-2 Duathlon, and the Steelhead Triathlon.
Over the years, the series fizzled out and each event is now held independently throughout the year, with the Steelhead always being in the summer.
Similar to modern triathlons, the Steelhead is made up of three sports: an 800-yard swim, or 32 lengths in Irwin Pool; a 12-mile bike ride along hilly terrain beginning at Irwin Pool; and a 3.1-mile run around the installation. But even if the unusual terrain may be challenging to even the seasoned racer, its popularity has increased with each year.
As one of the more well-known athletic events held on the fort, the number of participants has ranged from 125 – 175 in past years.
“We peaked at 175 but then we had six heats because the swim is in Irwin Pool,” said Leslie Woods, chief of Sports, Fitness and Aquatics, Fort Huachuca. “We can only send off 30-plus people per heat, but with six heats we found even starting at 6 o’clock [in the morning] it was already 90 degrees when that last heat went off and that was a safety issue. So we backed our numbers off and we capped it at 144 participants.”
For Craig Liming, a frequent contestant in past years, there is more to the Steelhead Triathlon than just a competition.
“I can remember the camaraderie,” Liming said. “People would come down from Tucson, Phoenix and people from around here — just everybody got together and the expectation was that we were going to put ourselves out there, do our very best and not make excuses for why we couldn’t have done better.”
For Martin Coll and Mike Baltunis, owners of M&M Cycling in Sierra Vista, the Steelhead Triathlon is truly a culmination of a Family-oriented Army post like Fort Huachuca, and its impression on the surrounding communities.
When Coll participated in the first Steelhead in 1994, he had just moved here from Scotland.
“It was good to get out and do what I like to do and meet people at the same time,” he said.
Baltunis, who regularly partakes in the event, shared the excitement with his 13-year-old son last year as they completed the event together.
“Out of all the things that epitomize the Steelhead Triathlon particularly — because of the nature of a triathlon and the nature of the different sports coming together — it creates an environment where you must have discipline, determination, grit and endurance,” Liming said. “In my mind, all of those things are exactly what you have to have if you expect to be a good Soldier. You have to be ready for all of the things that are going to come at you at any particular time period.”
Applications are now available for the 20th Annual Steelhead Triathlon, which begins at 6 a.m., Sept. 6, at Irwin Pool on Fort Huachuca. The race is limited to the first 130 registrants. The competition includes individual male and female participants, and coed teams of three.
For more information, call 520.533.3246.