Joel Reichenberger: Inspiration not hard to find at triathlon

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— There's something different about triathlons.

For whatever reason, finishing a triathlon is held by many to be one of the great goals in life, a sentiment that seemed even stronger during last week's race than it did during the Steamboat Marathon earlier in the summer or during any of the other great endurance races in Steamboat Springs.

Molly Cuffe said triathlons are just more difficult. She should know - she's run marathons, competed in bike races and now has finished two triathlons.

It was hard to miss Cuffe's finish in this year's Steamboat Springs Triathlon. She came in last - a distant last. Race director Barry Siff already had given away half the day's awards, but paused midway through his presentations as the race's public address announcer, Shannon Lukens, took over.

Lukens worked the microphone all morning, filling the air as racers finished, adding personal tidbits as often as she could to make each racer's finish a personal affair.

She cranked it up again as Cuffe neared the finish line, and the crowd followed her lead, roaring as loud as it had all day.

The day was filled with so many great stories that Siff couldn't even turn around without bumping into a few of them. Trying to give away several Timex watches, he asked one racer what she did to deserve one.

"I survived breast cancer," she replied.

She got the watch.

The story was the same everywhere. Some finished the triathlon as part of a life-saving health kick. Others did it to show they were stronger than one disease or another.

Cuffe didn't enter for any of those reasons.

She entered hoping to better her time, after she first competed in the sport last summer.

Things went awry during her swimming stage. Her struggles in the mossy waters of Lake Catamount blew away any race plan.

But she didn't stop.

After finishing the 20-mile loop on her bike, she figured she only had the four-mile run left, so she took off on that as well.

Unable to run, she walked. And she finished.

Along the way, Cuffe said she learned a lot. She works at SmartWool, and she said her co-workers seemed to be standing on every corner, cheering her on.

She said the urging of Lukens and the explosion of the crowd made the final steps possible. She said on the course of what was the most difficult race she's ever participated in, she realized without the help of both the Steamboat and triathlon communities, she'd likely still have been sitting on the shores of the lake.

She said she came away inspired.

She was far from the only one to make that claim at this year's triathlon.

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