NAPLES — It was a day of repeat champions at the Naples Fitness Challenge Triathlon on Sunday morning at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.
Or, as was the case for Kurt Roeser, a four-peat.
The former University of Florida track athlete led the race from wire-to-wire to claim his fourth first-place finish in the men’s division. The Naples-native held a two-minute lead over second-place finisher Aubrey Aldy going into the final swimming portion of the race, and was able to cruise easily to victory with a time of 48 minutes and 53 seconds.
“It went about as good as I could have expected,” Roeser, 25, said of the win. “I ran about a 15:40, I think, which was about what I was planning on running. The bike went really well. There’s not a lot of wind, but it was a little choppy out there ... just enough to make the swim a little extra demoralizing. I just held on. I had a pretty good lead going into the swim so it was good.”
Andy Woodruff was the top finisher in the men’s Over 40 category, and finished second overall with a time of 51:23.
Although Roeser struggled toward the end of the swim, he was never in danger of losing his commanding lead.
“It takes a while to get into a rhythm out there,” he said. “About halfway through I was just thinking ‘I’ve got to finish this and get out of the water.’ It helped to have that cushion, but I kept looking back to make sure nobody was crawling up on me too fast.”
Although he plans to move to Colorado this summer, Roeser plans on returning next year to continue his dynasty.
“I always look forward to this race,” Roeser said. “I wouldn’t have gotten into triathlon if it wasn’t for this race and it just keeps growing. It is good to see everybody coming out and getting into shape for it. It is a really great event.”
A total of 877 racers took part in this year’s event that consisted of a 5K run and 15K bike ride through the surrounding neighborhood before ending up with a 0.25-mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Kurt’s in a different league, and I’m glad that he is taking over the lead on that,” said Marc Damon, the last person to win the men’s division prior to Roeser’s reign in 2008, “But there are some fast kids out there coming up, so it wouldn’t surprise me if in two or three years those guys start catching up with him.”
Damon, who also won the event in 2006 and 2007, finished fifth with a time of 53:05.
On the women’s side, North Port’s Heather Butcher successfully defended her title as well, crossing the finish line with a time of 56:40.
“It was a lot of work. There is definitely some talented women here,” Butcher said. “I had to work very hard.”
Butcher also pointed to the rough seas as the main factor for her a higher time this year. It was a sentiment echoed by many participants.
“The swim was rough,” she said. “Last year it was smooth, so it was a relatively easy swim but swimming after running and riding hard is always difficult, and when you add in the rough conditions it was difficult. My feet both cramped up so it was a little bit of work.”
“I was third coming into the water but the water was just rough,” Damon said. “There was just lots of rolling waves and I couldn’t catch my breath, and I had a hard time seeing the buoys. ... I was just trying to finish.”