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Pros, charity flock to triathlon

March 29, 2014 - 7:19pm

Over the past 17 years, Lavaman Waikoloa has grown from a grassroots race with 83 participants into an event known worldwide for great atmosphere and stellar racing conditions.

“I like to call it a boutique race,” Lavaman race director Gerry Rott said. “A big part of this race is the location. You cannot beat the beauty here.”

The Olympic-distance triathlon begins with a 0.9-mile swim in Anaehoomalu Bay. A 24-mile bike ride on Queen Kaahumanu Highway and a 6.2-mile run on the Waikoloa Beach Resort grounds follow.

This year, more than 1,500 participants from eight countries and at least 30 states are on the start list.

“People will tell me all over the place that they know about the Lavaman race. It has become a famous race. It always surprises me,” Rott said. “I understand it is more expensive than a lot of races, but I don’t think a lot of athletes will challenge the value. We know that if people are spending thousands of dollars to come here for this race, it better be a real good one. All the details mean so much to me. It is put together to have a great atmosphere and energy all weekend and then a real neat party at the end.”

Among the field are 10 professional racers vying for the Lavaman title, including Kailua-Kona’s Bree Wee and Oahu’s Timothy Marr, who both have multiple Lavaman wins.

Marr is the top contender for the men’s title, since defending champion Chris Lieto and three-time event winner Chris McCormack will not be on the course Sunday.

Wee, who most recently won the race in 2012, missed the event last year because she was racing in the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne, Australia. This year, Wee will attempt to take her title back from reigning women’s pro champion Amber Stull of Anchorage, Alaska.

Fixtures on the local racing scene, Luis De La Torre and Thomas Vonach, round out the professional Big Island racers. Kinsey Apperson (Alaska), Daniel Folmar (Alaska), Mariane Uehara (Oahu), Derk de Korver (Canada) and multiple Ironman 70.3 champion Magali Tisseyre (Canada) complete the professional category.

“It’s a competitive race, and the pros who come have been very supportive and bring a lot of validation to this race,” Rott said. “They can use it as a tune-up for the year because it is so early in the triathlon season.”

Lavaman is not an event made strictly for professionals. Where the race really shines is with the competitive age-groupers and amateur racers who are competing to raise money for worthy causes.

The event’s 167 charity slots sold out this year, and that money went to seven nonprofit organizations.

Team in Training is a group that raises money toward cures for blood cancers such as leukemia — the No. 1 disease killer of children — and lymphoma and myeloma. Team in Training has raised more than $16 million through Lavaman in its 13 years at the event. This year, 276 members of Team in Training will be on the course.

The Racing for a Cure Triathlon Team is using the weekend’s event to raise awareness and funds for arthritis. Helgi Olafson spearheads the group.

Olafson, who caught the triathlon bug at the 2012 Lavaman event while racing on a relay team, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 2001. The disease is an autoimmune arthritis that causes vertebrae in the spine to fuse together.

“Lavaman has been a platform for me to reach out to the Big Island athletic community and has been great for connecting me with people who are interested in helping,” Olafson said.

Many other groups will be racing with deserving causes motivating them every pedal, stride and stroke on the course. Among these are Team Carmen, a local group working in conjunction with Team in Training and is dedicated to the life of Carmen Leolani White, a Hawaii youth who in October 2012 died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Team CHM is racing to raise awarness for Choroidermia, a rare inherited disorder that causes progressive loss of vision due to degeneration of the choroid and retina.

Organizers advise participants and spectators to arrive early on race day to avoid heavy delays. Race day parking will be at Anaehoomalu Bay and the Queens’ MarketPlace.

The road to Anaehoomalu Bay will be closed from 7 to 11 a.m. during the bike portion of the race.

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