Ironman athletes overcome injuries, grief by competing

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Highlights from the race.

After getting sideswiped by a car during training this summer, Greg Bennett decided to enter the ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta.

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Ironman participants make their way down Broad Street for the final leg, a 13.1-mile run downtown.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Ironman participants make their way down Broad Street for the final leg, a 13.1-mile run downtown.

It may seem like backward logic. Instead, Mr. Bennett saw an opportunity to compete for the first time in a decade in his first half Ironman triathlon.

The 37-year-old Mr. Bennett raised his arms and let out a "Whoo!" after crossing the finish line Sunday morning at Augusta Common to win the inaugural Augusta Ironman. The Bennett family completed the sweep 30 minutes later when Greg's wife, Laura, claimed the pro female division.

Mr. Bennett, of Boulder, Colo., won the pro male division with a time of 3:47:06.

"I started training about three weeks ago for this," he said. "I think I'm pretty fortunate to come away with a win."

In her first Ironman 70.3 appearance, Mrs. Bennett, 34, finished seven seconds ahead of Kelly Williamson of Austin, Texas.

"This is fantastic," Mrs. Bennett said. "I don't take anything for granted. This was a very hard race today."

The event kicked off at 7:30 a.m. with a 1.2-mile swim that began at the Fifth Street Marina and ended at The Boathouse. After moving to the transition area, athletes hopped aboard their bikes for a 56-mile ride into Aiken County. The athletes returned to the transition area, where they embarked on a 13.1-mile run, which included two loops through downtown Augusta and ended at Augusta Common.

About 2,800 athletes competed in the event, which featured warm, clear conditions.

"Overall, we're extremely pleased," race organizer Bill Burke said. "Really high pickup rate of athletes. We actually had more athletes racing here today than we had in New Orleans in April. That makes this probably the biggest 70.3 in the world."

Greg Bennett claimed the event's first title despite taking a spill off his bike in August that sent him to the hospital with a broken nose and injuries to his face, elbow, knee and shoulder.

"Fortunately," Mr. Bennett said, "my body healed pretty quick."

It wasn't the first time he's collided with a car.

"I'm an old biker. I've been around a long time."

With the win, Mr. Bennett claimed a qualifying spot into the 2009 Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3 on Nov. 14 in Clearwater, Fla.

"That gives me a bit of time to get ready for that," he said.

The half Ironman events feature pro athletes, age-group athletes and teams. Few people were happier finishing than Carlos Serrano Jr., of Scottsboro, Ala., who met his goal of finishing in less than seven hours in his first half Ironman -- he unofficially finished in 6 hours and 50 minutes. His father, Carlos Sr., who would have turned 50 on Sunday, was planning to compete alongside him. But while training on his bike July 29, the elder Mr. Serrano was struck and killed by a driver checking her cell phone.

"I know I'm making him proud," Mr. Serrano said. "He always pushed me to be my best. I did it. I beat my goal. I'm as happy as I can be right now."

The 20-year-old Mr. Serrano said his father was with him throughout the race. He wore a dog tag in memory of his father and also wore his father's red wristband -- "Never Quit The Game" -- and his watch.

"Any time I wanted to stop, I felt him," Mr. Serrano said. "I knew he was watching me. He was there."

Brandon Rogers of Evans crossed the finish line and then returned to slap high-fives and yell out, "Great job" and "Way to go" to fellow finishers. Mr. Rogers, who just started competing in marathons in July, competed Sunday in his first half Ironman.

"There's a whole culture of people right here," Mr. Rogers said. "They're more interested in each other's benefit."

The Bennetts were highly interested in their own outcomes. Greg and Laura each have been dealing with injuries over the past 18 months but are now fully back.

"This means a lot for the family," Mrs. Bennett said. "To be back in the game means everything.

"This is what we train for. We love racing. That's our No. 1 love. And we train to race."

The ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta will return to the area for two years. Greg Bennett said he'd like to come back for the 2010 competition.

"It's always nice," he said, "to come back as the defending champion."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

HOW THEY FARED

How The Augusta Chronicle's seven Ironman of the Day participants finished:

Mike Grady Augusta 5:04:27 23rd men's 45-49

John Owen Kansas City, Mo. 5:35:22 140th men's 30-34

Tom Crute Augusta 4:44:34 8th men's 45-49

Greg Damron Evans 6:07:49 278th men's 35-39

Jason Pattillo Augusta 4:51:55 37th men's 30-34

Jon Adamson Alpharetta, Ga. 5:22:20 1st men's 70-74

Gustavo Gonzalez Lawrenceville, Ga. 4:44:24 4th men under 19


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MyTake
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MyTake 09/28/09 - 11:43 am
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This wasn't quite the

This wasn't quite the Masters, but any city in the country would be thrilled to host an event like this. We had never been to an Ironman event before and were glad to learn more by hanging out pretty much anywhere we wanted. Everything we saw was very positive and the athletes were happy to be here.

createyourfuture
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createyourfuture 09/28/09 - 06:44 pm
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The Masters has a long legacy

The Masters has a long legacy in this town. The Ironman attracts a different clientele. The fans were great. Everyone cheered for everyone. even as the course was closing, some people still straggled across the finish line to the cheers of friends and family. I hope we can continue to host this event for years to come. It might be better to do it 1-2 weeks later in the season, but other than that bring it back.

DEVGRU
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DEVGRU 09/28/09 - 07:38 pm
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Augusta has so much

Augusta has so much potential. It's sad that the government can't get its act together. This city could be better than Atlanta with the right political climate. The lake, river, hospitals, military. So many things that could make it the place to be. It's sad that a few dumb, ignorant beings keep it underwater.

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