Dennis Vanderheiden runs with Jennifer Roemmich during Sunday’s Steamboat Triathlon. Vanderheiden started the Athletes in Tandem organization in 2008, and he competes in triathlons with those who aren’t able to compete by themselves. Roemmich, whose parents have lived in Steamboat Springs for 11 years, suffers from cerebral palsy.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Dennis Vanderheiden runs with Jennifer Roemmich during Sunday’s Steamboat Triathlon. Vanderheiden started the Athletes in Tandem organization in 2008, and he competes in triathlons with those who aren’t able to compete by themselves. Roemmich, whose parents have lived in Steamboat Springs for 11 years, suffers from cerebral palsy.

Hundreds of athletes take to water, roads for Steamboat Triathlon

Matt Smith takes third Steamboat Triathlon title in a row; Amy Charity claims women's championship

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Triathlon results

Click here for full results from the 2010 Steamboat Triathlon.

— The massive field of competitors for Sunday’s Steamboat Triathlon splashed through Lake Catamount and rolled and ran over the hills southeast of Steamboat Springs, hundreds of athletes soaking in what was a breezy but picturesque Yampa Valley morning.

Jennifer Roemmich didn’t run a step or swim a stroke, but, pushed, pulled and escorted throughout the race by Dennis Vanderheiden, the cerebral palsy-stricken athlete finished as one of the race’s biggest stars.

She can’t talk but said everything all with a wide smile after crossing Sunday’s finish line.

“This was just so great,” said Roemmich’s father, Bruce Roemmich, who’s lived in Steamboat Springs with his wife, Pam, for 11 years. “It’s so great for someone else to help Jennifer have fun besides her parents. It really helps promote her independence.”

Vanderheiden started his Athletes in Tandem program two years ago, motivated by Dick Hoyt, who pushes his son with cerebral palsy, Rick, in similar races.

On Sunday, Vanderheiden worked harder than any other racer, pulling Roemmich through the three-quarters of a mile swim in Lake Catamount in a raft, hitching a special chair behind his bike for the 22.4-mile bike ride and pushing her in a wheelchair for the 4-mile run, all, he said, to help her experience the thrill of the race he’s long loved.

Roemmich beamed from her seat, enjoying the wind in the face as she ticked off her first triathlon.

Nearly 500 athletes took part Sun­­day, and officials estimated there might have been three times that number at the Lake Catamount start and finish area throughout the day.

They cheered nearly every runner that came down the short hill beside the blue lake to cross the finish line for the close to 30-mile race.

They cheered louder for locals and longer for those who finished first — Denver’s Matt Smith won the men’s event and Steamboat’s Amy Charity took the women’s title — and those who finished last.

But no one got a reception quite like Vanderheiden and Roemmich, who were greeted with loud applause, then a standing ovation during an awards ceremony after the race.

“She had a great time,” Pam Roemmich said, describing her own emotions on the day by pointing to cheeks shimmering wet with tears.

Accomplishment was not in short supply Sunday.

Smith, who’s competed in each of the race’s six years and now won the past three, dominated again, covering the course in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 42.3 seconds.

Wayde Jester was second in 1:38:27.1.

Sam Holmes placed third in 1:39:13.3.

Smith recorded the fastest times in the 26-mile bike ride and the 4-mile run to comfortably wrap up the win.

“Honey Stinger is one of our longest sponsors, so we love to come up to their territory,” said Smith, who competed with his wife, Molly. “Steamboat’s just the most beautiful place in the world. We love to come up here for the marathon and for the triathlon.”

Charity, meanwhile, claimed the women’s championship, on a strong all-around race and a super performance on the bike. She finished in 1:48:59.5.

Charity was nearly four minutes faster than any other woman on the bike but won by an even greater margin. Molly Smith, Matt Smith’s wife, was second in 1:54:24.0, and Courtney Rebel was third in 1:58:22.2.

“When we turned around on the run, I saw where the other girl was, so I thought I was OK, but she looked like she was really fast,” Charity said. “Bike is definitely my favorite. That’s where I’ve been training the most. I knew I had to get ahead there.”

The day was capped by an award ceremony where race di­rector Joy Rasmussen announced first that next year’s Steam­­boat Triathlon would be of the slightly longer Olympic distance, and second, that it would be accompanied by a much shorter sprint-distance triathlon in late July at Steamboat Lake.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Ras­mussen said, speaking about the future of triathlon in Steamboat Springs and about Sunday’s success.

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

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