August 17, 2013 11:11:52 PM
John Mooney wanted to be like dad.
Mooney remembers when he was 9 years old and his family took a vacation to Destin, Fla. His father used the excursion to compete in a triathlon, and he brought John along for the event.
Even though Mooney didn't have any florescent signs to root his father on, he was hooked.
"It was so cool I had to get in on it," Mooney said.
Eleven years later, Mooney has taken the inspiration from his father and become a top-flite triathlete. The Brookhaven resident won the overall men's title at the second annual Possum Town Triathlon in Columbus with a time of 1 hour, 12 minutes, 15 seconds. His time was 42 seconds better than Paul Kaufmann, of Poplarville.
Mooney competed in his first triathlon -- an off-road triathlon, which is now known as the Mississippi Kids Triathlon, in Jackson -- when he was 10 years old. He graduated to a road triathlon, which he enjoyed because of the added speed. He has been active on the circuit ever since, competing in as many as events as year.
Last year, Mooney won the 15- to 19-year-old age group with a time of 1:14:46 that was good for fourth overall. He credited a strong set of offseason training to help him slice seconds off.
"I worked on my swim a lot and I tried to get my run speed where it needed to be," Mooney said. "I definitely felt faster today. I felt like I was having a good day and tried to get the positive mental aspect of it going."
Mooney's time of 1:12:40 wasn't fast enough to eclipse the time of Brad Rollins, who won the inaugural event in 1:11:24. Rollins didn't compete this year.
The competitors started based on the order they enrolled. There was a five-second staggered start between competitors entering the water. Chip timing kept track of the athletes' times as they crossed each transition stage.
The starts left Mooney, 20, separated from another one of the top competitors, Joe Giambrone. But Mooney spotted Giambrone ahead of him in the final stretch of the run. Even though he didn't catch Giambrone, 46, and was ribbed after the race that he didn't, he knew from past experience and how he felt that he had a good chance to win the race based on his positioning.
"I love triathlon," Mooney said. "It is my favorite sport. As you can hear, you constantly hear the crowd clapping and encouraging. It is such a positive atmosphere. I love it. I want to do it forever. Everyone is pushing everyone to be the best they can be. It is addicting."
Kaufmann, who also finished second last year (1:12:45), said the weather was in everyone's favor. A thunderstorm delayed the start of last year's race before the sun came out in the cycling and running portions of the event. Kaufmann said temperatures probably were about 15 degrees hotter.
Brad Smith, 32, of Sumrall, was another competitor who capitalized on the conditions. Starting from the No. 3 spot, Smith was the first overall finisher. His time of 1:15:54 was good enough for fourth overall. It was an improvement of 43 seconds based on last year.
"The course is really good," said Smith, who graduated from New Hope High School in 1999. "I told Brad Atkins, the director, the volunteers are amazing, so there is no thinking to what you're doing."
Smith said the overall atmosphere mirrored the inaugural event and was a success, just like last year. He credited the police and volunteers for being vocal and letting competitors know about sharp turns and subtleties of the course. He said it is easy to recommend the event to fellow triathletes back home and around the state and region.
"The layout is good, the roads are good, the course is good," said Smith, who does eight to 10 triathlons a year even with a 3-year-old son, Noah. "There are more volunteers here than any other race I do. It makes it so much easier. The timing of everything has gone smooth. I am going to try to get a big, big group down here and make this one big."
Race organizers Brad and Melissa Atkins thanked the sponsors, led by the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau and Baptist Memorial Hospital, and all of the volunteers and support staff personnel for making the event a success.
Other sponsors were: Columbus Anesthesia Associates, Mississippi Steel Processing, Boardtown Bike, The Bridge Group, Burkhalter, Waukaway Water, Evangel Church, Galloway-Chandler-McKinner Insurance, The Fitness Factor, Gastroenterology Associates of Columbus, Golden Triangle Running and Cycling Club, Heart and Sole Cycle and Fitness, Max Muscle, Gentiva, Clark Beverage Group, Wesley Platt MetLife, Rod Ray Attorney, Golden Triangle Maintenance Services LLC, PJ's BBQ, Snap It Sports, Road ID, and Hammer Nutrition.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.