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Popular triathlon returns for another year

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Swimmers get ready to hit the water during last year’s Bottomless Lakes Triathlon. (File Photo)

The Bottomless Lakes Triathlon has come a long way since the first one was held more than three decades ago. Perry Toles was asked to design a course for some cadets at New Mexico Military Institute.

Toles said that he and the late Bill Tarter came up with a plan where athletes swim, bike and run for so many meters around a course.

During the early 1980’s, Toles thought if the work was going to be done to design a course, why not invite the whole community along with the NMMI cadets.

“The first Bottomless Triathlon was held in 1984,” Toles said. “It was much earlier in the year because we wanted it to be held before the classes at NMMI got out so the cadets could actually participate in it. I believe it was in April.”

Toles recalls that the water at the state park near Roswell was cold that year. He said that was before triathletes swam with wet suits. This year’s triathlon will take place Saturday and Toles said the event hasn’t changed much over the decades.

“We’ve been fortunate that there’s been a lot of support from New Mexico Military Institute, especially their coach Jan Olesinski, who was really the primary lead race director for several decades,” Toles said. “I’ve been working with coach Olesinski for quite a while putting it on and sharing duties. “

Toles said the event will start with a quarter-mile swim in Lea Lake and he said the course is in the shape of a triangle.

“When they exit the lake, they run into the transitional area, which is the parking lot where they’ll find their bicycles, put on their helmets and ride for 8 miles,” Toles said. “We’re really excited about the event this year because they repaved that road, right after last year’s event.”

Toles thinks the new black top around the park has led to an increase in advanced registrations.

“I think athletes are excited about riding on smooth pavement,” Toles said.

Once the bike ride is done, Toles said the participants will then run for nearly three miles.

Toles added that participants from all over have participated in the triathlon and in recent years, there has been an increase in people from El Paso and Juarez.

“We pull mostly from New Mexico, West Texas, Arizona, Colorado and then you get a few athletes that participate because they are traveling in this area,” Toles said.

Toles is expecting more than 100 athletes to converge on Roswell this weekend.

“The Bottomless Lakes State Park is the ideal venue for a triathlon,” Toles said. “You don’t have any intersections. It’s beautiful water, very comfortable temperatures. Now that we have new pavement on the bike course, that’s going to be really sweet for the athletes to ride on and the course is all self contained.”

Toles explained more about Bottomless Lakes and the self contained course.

“Mother nature and the New Mexico State Parks has provided us with the ideal venue,” Toles said. “We provide a commemorative T-shirt each year to the athletes and plaques for the top three in each age group and we have team awards too.”

Toles has also competed in a number of triathlons over the years. The first was in 1983 in Albuquerque and he also competed in the first ever Bottomless Lakes Triathlon. In order to compete, Toles said one must train to compete in either swimming, running or biking.

“When you look at them individually, a 400 meter swim or 8-mile bike ride or a two-and-a-half mile run, those are the most manageable distances for the most recreational armchair sportsperson,” Toles said. “You do have to feel comfortable swimming in open water and you have to have a bike with proper gearing and the fastest athletes will be competing on this course in less than an hour.”

Toles said the triathlon has attracted people of all ages over the years, including a 9-year-old.

“We have a couple of 80-year-olds that will be here,” Toles said.

Proceeds from this year’s triathlon will be going to Harvest Ministries.

“I’ve been on the board of directors of Harvest Ministries for quite a while,” Toles said. “One day, the light bulb went on and I thought that both organizations could benefit from each other. All the proceeds go to support Harvest Ministries. It’s been a great partnership. Pastor Mark Green provides a lot of his volunteer help for the day.”

The triathlon starts at 8 a.m. Saturday.