Two `Clydesdales' don't horse around

Former Terps: Weighing well over 200 pounds, Rich Nelson and Richie Petitbon are serious triathletes.


July 09, 2005|By Kim Phelan | Kim Phelan,SUN STAFF

When competitors line up for tomorrow's New York City Triathlon, there will be a sea of compact, trim men and women preparing to swim 1,500 meters, bike 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers. Most of the men will be probably be about 150 muscled pounds.

Head and shoulders - and then some - above the rest of the competition will stand Rich Nelson and Richie Petitbon.

So who invited the big guys?

"We are the largest human beings in every race we go to," said Petitbon, of Thomas Point.

Nelson, who is 6 feet 5 and 294 pounds, and Petitbon, 6-4 and 257, are so much bigger than most triathletes that there is a special classification for them - Clydesdale, the name for competitors 200 pounds and more.

"When Richie and I heard that, we thought, `We eat 200 pounds for breakfast,'" said Nelson, 38, of Crofton.

If it seems as though these two are better suited for football, it is because they are.

They are former University of Maryland teammates. Nelson was a defensive lineman whose last season was 1988, and Petitbon was an offensive lineman from 1984 to 1987.

"I was a year older than `Big Nel,'" Petitbon, 40, said of Nelson. "I played offense; he played defense. We competed every day."

After years away from the game, the former teammates began running together to get back into shape. Soon, the competitive nature of their relationship came back into play.

"There was some time where we couldn't work out together for about a month, and we kept calling each other to see how much we'd run," said Nelson, president of a construction supply company. "He'd run four miles, and the next day I'd run five. He ran six the day after, then I said, `I'm going to put this out of reach,' and I ran 10 miles."

But Petitbon was not deterred. When he ran 12 miles the next day, the two men decided to start training for a marathon. Their marathon career was short-lived, and they opted instead to begin competing in triathlons for more of a challenge.

Being larger than the average triathlete just means that the two have to work harder, Petitbon said.

"You can't empathize enough with what weight has to do with it," said Petitbon, who owns a security alarm company and is the son of the former NFL coach and player Rich Petitbon. "When you're little and light, you're not carrying as much, and it doesn't take as much gas to make you run."

They have competed together in 10 to 15 triathlons - depending on which one you ask - and they have done well in the Clydesdale class. In their first try at the world championship triathlon in Los Angeles in 2000, they each finished third in their respective class - Petitbon in the 250- to 300-pound weight class and Nelson in the 300-plus class.

Now, with more experience, they are aiming to make this a banner season. Petitbon plans on breaking the world record in his weight class this weekend, and Nelson sees this as a steppingstone to breaking the world record by the fall. Whether that is in the 250-300 class or the 300-plus class for Nelson remains to be seen.

"If I get close, I'll have a couple of bowls of pasta and bump myself up to 300 pounds," Nelson said.

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