July 28, 2012 10:18:53 PM
Delynn Burkhalter has swam enough strokes, logged enough miles on a bicycle, and pounded enough pavement to know the elements that make a triathlon successful.
In addition to a quality course and hours of planning and organization, Burkhalter knows the importance of having helpful and interested volunteers involved in the race.
So while Burkhalter would be able to join the rest of the field for the inaugural Possum Town Triathlon on Aug. 18 in Columbus, the president and chief executive officer of Burkhalter Rigging, Inc. plans to work behind the scenes as a volunteer in an effort to make sure competitors have a memorable experience.
"The key is try to have people have the best experience they can have that day," Burkhalter said. "There are going to be people there who are going to try to win the race. There are going to be people there competing in their first triathlon. Each athletes has as just as much right to be out there. The race is not about the individual. It is about the whole group. Part of my mission will be to be encouraging and to smile and to do whatever I can to help somebody else have a good day and to help Brad (Atkins) because he is shouldering a big load."
Burkhalter has competed in events with Atkins, who is organizing the event with his wife, Melissa, and the Golden Triangle Running and Cycling Club. The "sprint" triathlon will feature a 600-yard swim, a 17-mile bike ride, and a 5-kilometer run at the Columbus Lock and Dam on Wilkins-Wise Road. The event will kick off at 7 a.m. Aug. 18.
Burkhalter typically would up hours before that making a last-minute checklist for the day's competition. This time, he is equally excited to be a part of the race as a first-time volunteers. He isn't sure where he will work, but he knows from past experience there will be plenty of things to do. From handing out water or gel packs to keep competitors hydrated and energized, Burkhalter said volunteers also will be needed in transition areas where athletes move from one part of the event tot he next. Depending on the number of competitors, there could be a lot of confusion as to which way people have to go to get back on the course. That's where the volunteers come in.
Burkhalter said he knows Atkins has done well to take care of many of the details to ensure athletes come to Columbus and don't have any problems. He looks forward to working with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department and/or the Columbus Police Department in making the triathlon a success.
"Most of the events, as I recall, the volunteers had a great attitude and they were there very early in the morning, and sometimes late into the night at Ironman events," Burkhalter said. "They seemed to be encouraging at every aid station and as the athletes were coming in of the transition from the swim to the bike and were guiding you and helping to keep you safe.
"It would be very difficult to do without many, many volunteers. They're taking their time to help me enjoy what I enjoy doing."
Burkhalter said he wants to change things up so he is in that role and helping to create what he hopes will be a tradition in Columbus. He believes the distance of the event is perfect for athletes of all experience and fitness levels. He admits it will be hot, so athletes will have to take care to get enough rest and to train for the event. He also is confident Columbus will get behind the event to make sure it is one people look forward to every year.
"We know Mississippi has been one of more obese states, and we take a good beating, and we have earned it," Burkhalter said. "The idea is to promote good health in a somewhat competitive environment. Some people will do it totally to compete with themselves. Others will do it to try to win their age group or the race. The motivation of the community has to be wellness. I understand Baptist (Memorial Hospital) is really supporting this, and it is great for people to get out and do things.
"It is not going to happen fast in Mississippi, but as we have more things like triathlons and 5- and 10-k runs and mountain bike races, which are things I love, to promote to people, that's when they are going to say, 'Hey, I am going to get me a bike and really ride it.' Then people like me will say we want more bike trails and people will try to get government grants to keep pushing that. Years later, you might with cycling and exercise-friendly communities that have areas like the Riverwalk (in Columbus). That is how I envision (the Possum Town Triathlon) as a small stepping stone to promoting wellness in Mississippi."
For more information about how to volunteer or how to register for the event, go to www.possumtowntriathlon.com. All registration has to be done online. The cost is $70 for individuals and $120 for a relay team. The registration deadline is 9 p.m. Aug. 17. There will be no race-day registration.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.