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Triathlon earns high marks


Adam Minichino



Brad and Melissa Atkins couldn't have asked for anything better. 


Not only did the rain stay away, but the Possum Town Triathlon organizers also benefited from overcast skies Saturday that kept temperatures down for their second annual sprint-distance event in Columbus. 


A bigger turnout of 145 completed the 600-yard swim, 17-mile bicycle ride, and 3.3-mile run, and many of the competitors had even more favorable reviews than the first year, which was gratifying for Brad Atkins, especially after he and his wife and so many other people helped make the event a success. 


"It went real well, just like last year," Atkins said. "I think we had plenty of volunteers, like we did last year, which made the race incredible. We have had several people already come up to us and tell us how great the race is compared to other races the same size." 


Atkins credited volunteers from Evangel Church and from the area and the city of Columbus for getting behind the triathlon. He credited the support of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau and all of the race sponsors for helping to make the second installment run even more efficiently. He said tweaks to the layout of the swimming portion of the event -- designed to help swimmers avoid stumps below the surface of the water -- and a move of the transition area for the bicycles went well, as did additional markings for the course. He said he didn't hear from any participants who hit any stumps during their swim. 


The only hiccup Atkins heard about was one runner who reversed the course, but he said he likely would keep the cycling and running courses the same for next year's race. He said growing the race and adding more vendors would be the only changes he could think of immediately after handing out all of the awards to the top finishers. 


"We are always looking for ways to grow it bigger and better," Atkins said. "I think we do a pretty good job. We advertise on Facebook and in the newspapers. Word of mouth is one of the big things with triathletes. Usually we have clubs across the state we advertise with. We try to get people that way. I think word of mouth and as long as people know we're doing a good job, that is one of our biggest things. I think word of mouth will pass pretty quick." 


Atkins acknowledged the event is off to a good start because it has shown competitors it is going to take care of the details, like providing food, snacks, beverage, bathroom facilities, and plenty of volunteer support. His goal is to build a tradition the rivals other events in the state that have been going on for years. 


John Mooney, of Brookhaven, who won the men's race in 1 hour, 12 minutes, 15 seconds, praised Atkins and all of the race volunteers and supporters for creating an atmosphere he enjoyed for a second year in a row. 


"I liked it a lot better," said Mooney, who plans to return to defend his title. "Last year, there were a couple of turns that weren't quite as well marked. There weren't issues, but there was the potential for issues. This year, it was spot on. The volunteers were really encouraging and really into it and really helped you. When you're going 25 mph on a bike and the wind is in your ears, it is hard to hear, but they were all very animated and it helped make the turns more clear. Even having a volunteer out on the course when you're hurting saying, 'Good job. Good job,' really helps. They fixed just about everything. It was a great race. I loved it." 


Donna Mellott, of Pass Christian, won the women's race in 1:28:05, reaching her goal of finishing in less than 90 minutes. Her time helped her improve from a third-place finish in 2012. Mellott agreed with Mooney that the people help make the Possum Town Triathlon fun. 


"It is a nice, little race," said Mellott, whose mother and father live in Columbus. "We have done races around the area, around the Coast, and in Florida. It is not as big. Florida has a lot bigger races and has done it a lot longer. But I don't notice anything they are really falling behind on. 


"I like the lake swim. It is reassuring to know it is only five feet deep, so if you did have issues ... I like the run course, however, it the sun is out, it does get pretty hot. With the overcast conditions today, it was very pleasant and comfortable, which in the middle of the summer was amazing to say. Whoever puts on the race obviously are triathletes themselves. The chip timing is nice to have, too. You like to look at your transitions. I think they are doing a really excellent job." 


Michael Peavy, 41, of Enterprise, competed in the Tri4Life in Brandon a week earlier. He has his children Mattie, 6, and Olivia, 10, and his wife, Kelli supporting him. He has done four triathlons this year, and heard about the Possum Town Triathlon through fliers he received at other events and by word of mouth. 


"It is great," Peavy said. "The course is great. The whole thing seems real smooth and real nice." 


Paul Kaufmann, of Poplarville, finished second (1:12.57) for the second consecutive year. He said he noticed more signage and course markings. He also though there were more volunteers and improved traffic control and people on motorcycles to ensurer participants weren't illegally drafting off other racers. He envisions race organizers having to find additional parking and making traffic changes if and when the race grows. 


"They have had a good turnout the last two years," Kaufmann said. "As far as location and where they are having the race, it is really good. They have a great number of volunteers, but Columbus has a lot going on. I have read some of the local events and they always have runs going on. They have a really good thing going for health and fitness. If they market this a little bit more, I think they will get a bigger crowd." 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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