Triathlon: Babylon man wins first Deep Pond Triathlon

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Tom Eickelberg of Babylon, completing the biking phase, went on to win the first Deep Pond Triathlon in Wading River.


What’s a little rain?

Well, it rained more than a little, even pouring at times during the first Deep Pond Triathlon on Saturday morning. But veteran triathletes like Tom Eickelberg, who have competed in conditions like that before, seemed to take it all in stride. Aside from adding some time to the run, Eickelberg said, the rain doesn’t make too much of a difference.

“It’s all part of it, and you just go,” he said. “It’s the same for everyone. You go home and all your stuff is wet as opposed to just the stuff you raced in, so it’s pretty annoying. You have a little more laundry to do and you have to take a little care of the bike.”

Before Eickelberg got to the laundry, though, he took care of business. Anyone looking for a pre-race favorite to win the Deep Pond Triathlon could have looked to Eickelberg, who said he hasn’t lost a race on Long Island in a few years.

Eickelberg maintained that fine record on Saturday. The 23-year-old Babylon man dealt with the rain and handily secured first place in a little over an hour in the Deep Pond Triathlon, which started and ended at the Schiff Boy Scout Camp in Wading River.

No one could say the result was a surprise.

“Tom Eickelberg is one of the best triathletes, I think, on Long Island,” the race director, Justin Schwartz, said. “He wins everything.”

Even the runner-up, Peter Ventura of Glen Cove, who finished more than four minutes behind Eickelberg, acknowledged that it would have taken a lot for him to upset Eickelberg. “I wasn’t expecting to catch him,” said Ventura, who figured he would have needed to turn in his best race, coupled with a relatively mediocre effort by Eickelberg, for the result to turn out in his favor.

It didn’t happen.

“Right now I’m undefeated in this race, which is cool,” joked Eickelberg, who will top his weekend off with a 10-kilometer race tomorrow in Babylon.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Patti Thorp of Boston hit the finish line 1 hour 15 minutes 19.02 seconds after the start to win the women’s race.

The rain didn’t have an impact on the opening 750-meter swim in Deep Pond, but it did present the possibility of treacherous conditions, with a 13-mile bike ride on slick pavement (including the old Northrop Grumman Airport runway) and then a scenic 3.1-mile run in woods around the pond, with muddy trails and puddles to navigate.

Ventura said he slipped and fell once during the run. No serious injuries were reported, said Schwartz.

Eickelberg said he took the lead on his fifth or sixth stroke of the swim. He never relinquished it. Both he and Ventura were the first ones to emerge from the water, heading to the transition area to get their bikes. The biking phase was where Eickelberg padded his lead.

“I just knew that I was going to bike as hard as I could and make sure that I have a nice cushion for the run,” he said.

Eickelberg ended up with a time of 1 hour 22.72 seconds. Ventura came in at 1:04:32.78. Andy Powell of Marcellus, N.Y., wasn’t too far behind Ventura, taking third in 1:04:50.37.

Two New York City athletes, Bucky Schafer (1:05:33.76) and Timothy Walton (1:06:16.09), claimed fourth and fifth, respectively. They were followed by Jose Lopez of Mineola (1:07:58.20), Robert Spina of North Massapequa (1:08:48.82), Nicholas Chester of Hauppauge (1:09:05.40), Michael Merlo of Rocky Point (1:09:32.75) and Samuel Holt of Brooklyn (1:09:41.62).

The triathlon started with four waves of athletes hitting the water for the swim. Patti Thorp of Boston was six minutes behind a wave of women who had started ahead of her. She passed them all somewhere along the way, though, and finished as the top female in 1:15:19.02.

About a mile and a half into the run, a volunteer told Thorp that she was the lead woman. “I was pretty shocked,” said Thorp.
Thorp, 54, had read material stating that the running course was hilly, and that concerned her because she is not a hill runner. She said that while she was running, “I kept thinking, ‘Where’s the hill?’ ”

As it turned out, the course suited her just fine.

Like Eickelberg, Thorp also won by a comfortable margin. The next two finishers after her in the women’s race were Tana Giraldo of Port Washington (1:23:51.97) and Jennifer Taggart of Saint James (1:25:50.03).

The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-placed women — Hallie Fitzsimons of Brightwaters, N.Y. (1:26:07.60), Kathryn Grassel of New York City (1:26:13.22) and Barbara Bencivenga of Nesconset (1:26:17.02) — finished within 10 seconds of one another. Stephanie Bree of Manorville (1:26:59.06) was seventh, Erin Devitt of Baltimore (1:27:07.41) was eighth, Stephanie Keilty of New York City (1:27:51.17) was ninth and Emily Suhey of Boalsburg, Penn. (1:27:59.65) was 10th.

Among local athletes, Lisa Kelly of Shoreham was 16th in the women’s race, and Michael Qualley of Shoreham was 26th in the men’s race.

Thorp took up triathlon 25 years ago. “The sport has grown a phenomenal amount,” she said.

Her triathlon career was put on hold for four years because of a variety of injuries. She returned to competition last year. Saturday’s triumph marked her second victory of the season. She also won a triathlon earlier this season in Islip.

“For me the accomplishment is now getting to the start line because that means I’m healthy enough to actually race,” said Thorp.

Schwartz, the race director, said 335 athletes registered for the triathlon. The results listed 219 athletes completing the event, which Schwartz expects to return in 2013.

“It couldn’t have gone better,” he said. “I think for a first-year event, considering the weather that we had, I think it turned out really well. The feedback that we’ve gotten from all the participants is very positive. They loved it.”

Not even the rain could put a damper on that.

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