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Honoring an original Mad Dog

By PETE YOUNG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Jim Ward was one of the original Mad Dogs -- Mad Dog No. 10, to be exact -- and some former St. Pete Mad Dog Triathlon Club teammates would like to honor his memory.

Ward, a decorated military veteran who became an accomplished Ironman triathlete in his 70s and 80s, died Sept. 4 at age 83 while on a training ride on the Pinellas Trail. A 10-time world champion in his age group, Ward, at 77, had become the oldest athlete to finish the most difficult triathlon of all, the Ironman in Hawaii.

Roger Burke, a fellow Mad Dog, will collect donations this weekend (at a booth at the exposition in Straub Park) that will go toward a water fountain in Ward's honor. Burke hopes to put the $2,500 fountain on the trail at the point where Ward died.

"We'd like to give the people who knew Jim Ward and were influenced by him an opportunity to give back," Burke said. "He's an American hero. ... He showed that old people can do triathlons.

"Jim always said, clean air and water are the two most important things. So we thought a water fountain would be a good idea."

THE DOOR IS OPEN: Three of the four winners from a year ago will not be defending their titles.

Women's amateur race winner Laura Drake, a 32-year-old St. Petersburg native who lives in Atlanta, is now professional. Drake opted not to compete today because it is a draft-legal event (on the bicycle). Because swimming is her weakest leg, draft-legal triathlons put her at a disadvantage.

"Winning St. Anthony's was the last thing I wanted to do as an amateur, and I turned professional a week later," said Drake, whose next race will be a half-Ironman on May 6 in St. Croix. "My swimming is improving, but it's not at a competitive level for (International Triathlon Union) draft-legal races. But I wish I could be there to watch."

Last year's men's amateur champion, Brian Fleischmann, 22, also turned professional, and he will compete in the pro race. He is seeded 48th.

The defending pro men's champion, Ryan Bolton, is not competing. Joanna Zeiger, however, is back to defend her women's title.

Simon Lessing, the men's No. 1 seed, will not race. ITU executive director Loreen Barnett said Lessing recently returned to his native Britain from South Africa, where he was training with No. 6 seed Conrad Stoltz, for treatment of an undisclosed injury.

FUTURE OLYMPIC RACE?: If Florida 2012 has its way, St. Anthony's will be the Olympic triathlon in 2012. The organization, which is trying to bring the Olympics to the area, is assisting St. Anthony's operations this year.

Jose Rodriguez, managing director of Florida 2012, said being involved in major local athletic events improves Florida 2012's chances of success: "(St. Anthony's) exposes our young people to great Olympians." -- PETE YOUNG

St. Anthony's

WHAT: A weekend of triathlons for professionals and amateurs.

WHEN: Professional -- women, noon today; men, 2:30 p.m. Meek & Mighty (novices and youths) -- 15 and older, 8 a.m. today; 11-14, 9 a.m.; 7-10, 10 a.m.. Age groups -- 7:30 a.m. Sunday.

WHERE: The professional and age-group events start at The Pier in St. Petersburg. The Meek & Mighty starts at North Shore Pool, 901 N Shore Drive, St. Petersburg.

COURSE: Professional and age groups -- Olympic distances, .9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, 6.2-mile run. Meek & Mighty -- For 11 and older, run 1 mile, bike 5.4 miles, swim 200 yards; 7-10, run 1 mile, bike 3.6 miles, swim 100 yards.

AT STAKE: Professionals compete for a $60,000 purse and International Triathlon Union points in the World Cup series. Overall and age-group awards will be presented in the other categories.

REGISTRATION: Closed for the professional and amateur (age-group) events. Call (727) 825-1271 for Meek & Mighty registration ($40), which is accepted up to the start of the race.

ADMISSION: Free.

INFORMATION: Call (727) 825-1271 or e-mail Triathlon@Baycare.org.

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