Giving Burlington a Tri

The Queen City Hosts the USAT Age Group National Championships, a First for Vermont

Photo courtesy of Rushton Sports

On August 20, the best triathletes in the country will compete in Burlington at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship. Waterfront Park will be the center of activity for athletes proving themselves in three disciplines: running, cycling, and swimming.

This will be the first time Vermont hosts the national championships. Local athletes get the home course and hometown crowd advantage, plus the event adds an economic benefit to the Burlington area. The Sprint National Championship will be held the same day.

Burlington was chosen in part because the organization is divided into 10 regions, said Jeff Dyrek, National Events Director for USAT, and the race hadn’t been to the Northeast in awhile. But Dyrek hastened to add that there was more to the decision.

“We’re impressed with the support the city is providing,” he said. “The governor was at the news conference, as was the mayor, and the level of encouragement has been great.” In addition, Dyrek noted that RunVermont (organizer of the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon) has proven it is capable of putting on a large-scale athletic event. Lastly, Dyrek said, “athletes have told us that Burlington is a place everyone wants to go. Now they have a reason to.”

Athletes will compete in five-year age group categories. To qualify for August’s race, they must have finished in the top third of either a special qualifying racesor a regional championship race. The Age Group Nationals consists of a 1.5K swim, a 40K bike ride and a 10K run.

The Vermont Convention Bureau was instrumental in pitching the Queen City to USAT. Peter Delaney, Executive Director of RunVermont, said the hope was to have the event in conjunction with the 2009 quadricentennial celebration of Samuel de Champlain’s visit to the region, but organizers don’t mind having it a few years after that gala.

“To have the opportunity to showcase northern Vermont and all that we have to offer to a national championship audience is a tremendous coup for everyone in Vermont,” Delaney said. “I think it will be a huge benefit to the state both economically and from a tourism marketing perspective. It’s very consistent with the lifestyle we enjoy on a regular basis. It couldn’t be a better fit.”

Gen Burnell of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce said the event will bring in close to 2,000 athletes and estimates it will attract 4,500 spectators, providing a benefit of at least $2 million to the Burlington economy. Another advantage to the Burlington locale is that 100 spots in the sprint distance are being reserved for Vermont residents. Those 100 spots, which can be filled by individuals or teams, are being referred to as the VTri and all proceeds from those entrance fees will go to Vermont Special Olympics.

Jerrod Rushton is the director of the Rehab Gym and organizer of the annual Lake Dunmore Triathlon, which is one of the qualifying races for the Nationals. Rushton said the age group race is the flagship event for USAT and he is very excited to have it come to Vermont for the first time. “The sport of triathlon has really been growing,” he said, “and there’s a core contingent of triathletes in Vermont. We’ll have a lot of great athletes and a lot of buzz.”

As of press time, 20 Vermonters were registered for the race ranging in age from 27 (see profile of Nicole Schneeberger on page XTK) to 70-year-old Albert Farrington of South Burlington.

Maria Cimonetti, a swimming and triathlon coach, has come a long way since her first (I deleted this because I got confused, thinking perhaps these championships took place in Burlington at one time)triathlon in 1983. She had just started her studies at the University of Vermont and wasn’t even sure what a triathlon was. She did the swim leg, but the team’s cyclist got lost, and the runner passed out, so it wasn’t the most successful outing. Almost two decades later in 2002, Cimonetti decided to try a sprint triathlon in her home town of Shelburne. “I had a ton of fun,” she said “and thought I could do better if I knew what I was doing.”

That’s an understatement. The following year, Cimonetti’s triathlon performances were good enough to earn the chance to race at the USAT Nationals.

Cimonetti is thrilled the Championship will be in Burlington, having competed in less-than-stellar locations like Kansas City, Mo., where the entire championship was canceled one year because of a ferocious storm; and Shreveport, La., where the swimming took place in a “muck hole.” On the other hand, the World Championship sites she has visited with Team U.S.A. as a result of her performance at Nationals have been well worth the travel, including Madeira, a Portuguese Island “in the middle of the ocean,” Honolulu, and Lausanne, Switzerland.

At 45, Cimonetti is pleased to be entering a new age group. She missed a few years with a bad back and is looking forward to returning to the national level for her comeback. Still, she’s taking nothing for granted.

“I’d like not to embarrass myself,” she said. “This is a really big deal. People will come from all over. A lot of them have expensive bikes and fine tastes in gadgets. They’ll enjoy Burlington and they’ll spend money.”

Donna Smyers, a veteran triathlete from Adamant, agrees with Cimonetti’s assessment of the less-than-stellar locations for previous Nationals. “It’s not about finding a scenic place,” she said, “and it’s not necessarily decided with the athletes in mind. That’s why it’s so exciting to have it in Burlington.” Like Cimonetti, Smyers hopes to attend the World Championships, an event she has qualified for on at least 10 occasions. This year they are scheduled to take place in New Zealand.

“What I love about triathlons,” said Cimonetti “is that it’s playing: I’ll race you to the buoy; I’ll race you down the road. It’s how I like to play, not doing the same thing all the time but using as many talents as I can summon.”

U.S.A. Triathlon Age Group National Championships
WHAT: The U.S. championships by age group; entrants must have qualified in previous triathlons.
DISTANCE: 1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 20
WHERE: Burlington Waterfront
ALSO THAT DAY: Sprint National Championships: 750m swim, 20K bike, 5K run

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”