Oliver Cassell's health was in jeopardy. He had become obsessed with drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. He was grumpy and always on the edge. But seven years ago, he quit both bad habits and searched for a less harmful way to release energy.
"Drinking so much coffee and smoking so many cigarettes had (( me wound up really tight," said Cassell.
He loosened up and worked himself into shape. And over the past five years the native Baltimorean has competed in 50 triathlons. Tomorrow he joins a group of 10 local triathletes, sponsored by Di Giorno Pastas & Sauces, who will be competing the seventh annual Baltimore Bud Light Triathlon.
"I feel great," said Cassell, who is 48. "[Smoking and drinking coffee] seems to be the highlight of my career. But that was seven years ago. I don't have any problems with my cholesterol now. My life is in order. Competing in triathlons allows you to take charge and be responsible for everything that you do and not make excuses."
The event, which is the fourth this year in the Bud Light Triathlon Series, starts at 7:30 a.m. at Gunpowder Falls Park with a 1.5K swim, followed by a 40K bike race from the park to the Inner Harbor. The competition ends with a 10K run from Rash Field to Fort McHenry and back.
Jimmy Riccitello, 26, of Tucson, Ariz., heads a list of top males. That's an honor for him considering his sports background. He says he was the worst swimmer on the Santa Rita High School team in Tucson, and he has a fear of weight rooms.
"I don't [lift weights], but I probably should because I'm pretty wimpy," said Riccitello. "When I go in the weight room, I get embarrassed because the women are lifting more than me. I am not a gifted athlete. I haven't been in sports long, but hard work pays off. I'm trying to build up my sports background."
He's making amends quickly. He trains strenuously -- even if he doesn't go into the weight room -- biking 250 to 400 miles and running 30 to 45 miles a week. He is 14 points ahead of Brooks Clark in the Coke Grand Prix Series chase for the $30,000 bonus. The series' women's champion is awarded the same amount.
A victory in Baltimore would move Riccitello closer to the title with six tour stops remaining, but eating and exploring the sites in town will be his top priority upon his arrival.
"I'll get off the plane and I'll head over to Little Italy and then I'll go down to the Harbor and get some oysters," he said. "But I've got to make sure I'm still the leader when its all over."
The top woman among the 2,000 registered for tomorrow's race is defending Coke Grand Prix Women's Champion Joy Hansen of Newtown Square, Pa., Hansen, 32, who started competing in triathlons in the fall of 1983, is a former cross country All-American from the University of Arizona.
Hansen, who is also a personal fitness instructor, trails Laurie Sammuelson by 31 points in the women's Grand Prix title race. She can overtake Sammuelson with a victory in Baltimore where she has won the past two years.
"Baltimore is always a great place for me," said Hansen. "It's close to home and I have a lot of friends there, so that makes it extra special."
What: Seventh annual Bud Light Triathlon.
When: Tomorrow, starting at 7:30 a.m.
Events: 1.5K swim; 40K bike race and 10K run.
Site: Gunpowder Falls State Park and Rash Field at Inner Harbor.
Spectators: Don't drive to Gunpowder Falls because there is no place to park. The best place to watch the race -- and the only place where parking is available -- is near the transition area on Key Highway next to the Science Center at the Inner Harbor. From there the bike finish, the run start and the finish of the race are only a short walk away.