Biggest Columbia Triathlon puts racers in lake, on wheels, feet

PLAYING AROUND

Howard at play

May 14, 2000|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

DRIVE NEAR Ellicott City's Centennial Park City early next Sunday, on streets just north of it or on some roads extending west, and you'll likely discover startlingly fit athletes in tight clothing.

From 28 states and the District of Columbia, they will be competing - and benefiting this community - in one of the nation's oldest, most popular triathlons, which also is the East Coast's largest such event each year.

That's the 19thColumbia Triathlon, a combined 10-kilometer run, 41-kilometer bike race and 1.5-kilometer swim in Centennial Lake. (That's 6.2 miles, 25.4 miles and, give or take, a mile, respectively, if you don't do metrics.)

Columbian Robert D. Vigorito, the event's ebullient founder and race director, cut off registrations about a month ago at 1,100athletes - an event record."It's the fastest we've ever filled up," said Vigorito, 52. "We just couldn't handle any more." About 70 percent registered via the Internet, he said.

About 80 entrants live in Howard County. Most hail from the Middle Atlantic, but one California woman is on the list; Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Vermont and Florida are among states represented. Thirty married couples are entered. The youngest entrant is 15; the oldest, 71. It's not just a guy thing; 263 females, the eldest 70, are competing.

The race begins at 6:45 a.m., rain or shine, although for safety reasons, heavy rain could shrink things to a run. About 650 volunteers, ranging from motorcyclists who guide and protect cyclists to parking attendants, are lined up.

Vigorito, a University of Maryland medical school neuroscientist, is passionate about triathlons. He's competed in about 50 triathlons and finished Hawaii's famed Ironman three times.

And his Columbia Triathlon Association has generated about $200,000 over the years for Howard County nonprofit groups, chief among them the Howard County Association for Retarded Citizens.

Kids helping themselves

Note to folks in greater Ellicott City: If you signed a "Hits for Kids" pledge, make sure to pay. The Howard County Youth Program's baseball players did the interesting - and productive - fund-raiser two Sundays ago and are wrapping up collections.

The objective is $40,000, a bit up from past seasons. It's a good cause, kids helping themselves. Take away money for incentive awards they get for participating, and the bulk buys heavy-duty improvements at HCYP's Kiwanis-Wallas Park, off Route 144.

Four baseball fields have gotten lights, and all eight baseball diamonds are being renovated, with new or improved turf, grading, drainage and sprinkler systems, courtesy of this annual fund-raiser.

It works this way: Each player, regardless of age or league, gets 15 swings at pitched balls, with points awarded according to each hit's distance. You pay per point.

This is the fourth year HCYP has used the program, which Rod Hempel"borrowed" from one in Virginia during Lonnie Swiger's tenure as commissioner. Hempel, out the last couple of years, returned as a manager this season.

Scrapbook

Evan Mitchell, catcher for the Hurricanes, a 12-and-under Elkridge Youth Organization travel baseball team, put up seven hits, four RBIs, threw out two runners and pitched for the first time - no runs, no hits, five strikeouts out of seven batters - during a doubleheader last Sunday.

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