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Inaugural Possum Town Triathlon set for Saturday in Columbus


Adam Minichino



Gunnar Olson has a top-three finish in his sights. 


Charla Lee just wants to finish. 


From competitive triathlete to first-timer, there will be competitors of all experience levels on hand Saturday for the inaugural Possum Town Triathlon at Columbus Lake at the Lock and Dam on Wilkins Wise Road.  


At 7 a.m. Saturday, event organizers Brad and Melissa Atkins, in conjunction with the Golden Triangle Running and Cycling Club and a host of volunteers, will kick off the "sprint" triathlon, which will feature a 600-yard swim, a 17-mile bike ride, and a 5-kilometer run. The triathlon will start and finish at the Columbus Lake at the Lock and Dam on Wilkins Wise Road.  


Olson, 44, started competing in triathlons 12 years ago. He said he got "serious" about his competition two to three years ago. This year, he has competed in seven events and plans to do three or four more. 


To make sure he is up for that regimen, Olson said he trains in the pool three to four days a week for about 45 minutes. On Saturdays, he said he cycles 70-80 miles and follows that up Sunday with a 15- to 18-mile run. He said he tries to take time off Mondays before getting back in the swing of things Tuesdays and Thursdays with 25- to 30-mile bicycle rides and Wednesdays and Fridays with eight- to 10-mile runs, all while continuing his time in the pool. 


"A couple of years back, I would go do the bar scene and it is just a completely different life," said Olson, a geographer who works at Mississippi State University. "My personal life revolves around training and racing. I definitely give up some other things to be at the level I can be competitive in this sport." 


Olson said his work schedule gives him the flexibility to concentrate on his training. He also said not having a wife or children allows him even more time. He said it isn't difficult to manage his training and a travel schedule that has seen him compete in Maryland and in Wisconsin. After doing a few half Ironman triathlons, Olson said his goal is to tackle a full Ironman, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles) at the end. 


"It is really exhilarating," Olson said. "Some may say it doesn't sound fun to run 18 miles, but pushing myself beyond what I think I can do is really satisfying." 


On Saturday, Olson said it would be even more satisfying to place in the top three overall. He also would love to win his age group 


Lee, 35, who lives in Columbus, has a different goal. This will be the first triathlon for the third-grade teacher at Caledonia Elementary School. She said she and her husband, Aaron, met Brad and Melissa Atkins through friends and they all attend Evangel Church in Columbus. Last December, she competed in the St. Jude's Half Marathon in Memphis, Tenn., and it has always been on her "bucket list" to compete in a triathlon, so she decided to give it a try. Her primary concern is getting through the event with suffering an injury. 


"I hope one day to be as athletic as (Brad and Melissa) are," Lee said. "They are just really encouraging, and their whole family is into running and they do lots of different event. I hope one day my husband (Aaron) and I and our family adopt that and it will become part of our life." 


Lee admits she doesn't have an athletic background, but that she did play intramural softball maybe one time while she was a student at Mississippi University for Women. She said she did ballet growing up and was a cheerleader for one year at West Point High School. She doesn't feel any of that experience will help her Saturday. 


Still, she feels her time of 2 hours, 56 minutes at the St. Jude's Half Marathon gives her confidence to know she can finish. For the past few months, she said she has followed a training plan set out by Hal Higdon, and that she hopes she doesn't look like a "first-timer" on the course. 


"I am going to have fun with it," Lee said. "I think it will be well received. I have a lot of friends who are excited about this being in our hometown. I think it is going to bring in a lot of people from the area, and even further, and they will get to visit Columbus and see the positive side of Columbus and that Columbus is striving to stay fit and to come together as a city." 


To register for the event, go to The cost is $70 for individuals and $120 for a relay team. The registration deadline is 9 tonight. There will be no race-day registration.  


Brad Atkins, who hopes to make the triathlon an annual event, said earlier this week that more than 100 competitors have signed up to participate. That's the kind of news Olson, who lives in Starkville, loves to hear. He encourages anyone interested in triathlons or fitness to come out and to give the event a try. 


"They shouldn't feel intimidated by it," Olson said. "People somehow get this thing in their mind that everyone out there will be a bunch of pros and they will feel unsure of themselves. I encourage everyone just to come out and do it. If you don't like it, at least you got to experience it once. It encourages a healthy lifestyle."


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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