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Florida's athletes spring into action

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 5, 2003

There have been some sure signs that Florida's cycling and triathlon seasons are rapidly approaching.

Spring training has begun.

If you are a rider who owns a pocket PC, your 2003 training miles are being logged.

You may be among the more organized cyclists, recording the new season's workouts in synchronization with Polar heart rate monitor software.

TEAM IN TRAINING: USA Triathlon coach Lewis Bennett of Largo leads an enthusiastic bunch of "tri-newbies" in preparation for the St. Anthony's Triathlon. Throughout the U.S., Team In Training athletes raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Bennett is the bay area's TNT triathlon coach.

Bennett, 56, a Jabil Circuit executive, carried the 1996 Olympic torch. The St. Pete Mad Dogs member coaches spin classes and is a Level 1 USAT coach, adventure racer, Ironman finisher, mountain-bike competitor and champion runner. True lovers of the outdoors, Bennett and his wife, Barbara, were married last year while kayaking on Lake Seminole.

Bennett and Ironman training partners Leslie Stallings of Palm Harbor and Darry Jackson, Seminole, will lead a team of 50 area athletes to the Wildwood Lodge in Aspen, Colo., for the Wildwood Winter Triathlon.

The skiing, running and snowshoe racing is scheduled for Saturday.

"We love Lewis, and he makes our training fun, even though the Tuesday night bridge repeats are really grueling," said TNT member Laurie Laurino of Tierra Verde. Bennett also volunteered to coach novice triathletes for the AARP Tri-Umph Classic Triathlon, which was at North Shore Pool last fall.

For information on novice and intermediate group workouts, go online to

GREAT CLERMONT: Fred Sommer of CFT/Sommer Sports has released the early portion of his 2003 calendar of multisports endurance events in Lake County.

The 20th Great Clermont Triathlon, Florida's season opener, is scheduled for April 6 at Lake Minneola. The race is comprised of a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike ride and 10K run.

"Lake Minneola has risen more than 7 feet since last October's Great Floridian Ironman," Sommer said.

"All triathletes are welcome, elites and rookies, and everyone is guaranteed a faster swim-to-bike transition this year and great swim conditions," he said.A free post-race party at Waterfront Park will include memorabilia from Sommer's previous 19 years of Clermont racing. Some past participants may be eligible for free entries. For information, go online to or call (352) 394-1320.

ESCAPE FROM FORT DESOTO: Tampa's Joe Fernandez is organizing the 17th triathlon, which is scheduled for April 12 at Fort DeSoto Park.

The race will consist of a .5-mile swim, 11 miles of biking and a 3.1-mile run.

Athletes who need more motivation can log on to Fernandez's web site and check out the event's countdown clock, which displays the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the start of the triathlon.

"Our race is a good one for the elites, but it's also a good triathlon for beginners to do," Fernandez said.

"Escape From Fort DeSoto is full of excited first-timers, and it's right in our backyard."

Fernandez will donate money from the event to Friends Of Fort DeSoto, the Tierra Verde volunteers group that says its mission is "to provide community support for the preservation and improvement of Fort De Soto Park."

Scientists from Florida International University in Miami have ranked Fort DeSoto among the country's top 10 beaches.

For information, go online to or call (813) 879-7223.

BOND IS A CHAMPION: Spring training is well underway for the nation's best wheelchair athletes. One such athlete is Michel Bond (Indigo Racing Team), the national champion handcrank cyclist.

Bond, a Florida native, was coming home from a wind-surfing vacation in 1990 when his motorcycle was hit by a drunk driver, paralyzing him from the waist down.

Instead of giving up on life, Bond says he was determined to enjoy a career in competitive sports and help the people who encouraged him.

"The more time you spend doing the things you can do, the less time you have to think about what you can't do," Bond said.

A member of the U.S. Disabled Cycling Team, Bond joined Pinellas Park's Team Invacare and designer Chris Peterson to build a light and aerodynamic handcrank racing machine.

Bond's hard work paid off with victories in national championships and top performances in the Boston Marathon, Walt Disney World Marathon and Los Angeles Marathon.

A frequent sight along St. Petersburg's bayfront is Bond and fellow wheelchair competitor Scott McNeice speeding behind local cyclists. To learn more about wheelchair racing, go online to

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