DEWITTVILLE - For the second consecutive year, the Big Fish Triathlon will be held on Chautauqua Lake to kick off the summer athletic season. The date is Saturday, June 7.
After a successful first year, athletes will get another chance to test their endurance in swimming, running and biking on and around the scenic landscape of Camp Onyahsa during the area's only Olympic-length triathlon.
Last year, the triathlon drew 70 competitors and this year it is looking like that number could be nearly doubled by race day, according to co-chairman Patty Gabreski.
Dan Pierce of Erie claimed the inaugural Big Fish title with a time of 2:14:22. Sandy Ruhlman of Frewsburg was the top women's finisher in 2:43.19.
Anyone who is interested in learning about the race or registering for the event can do so online by going to www.bigfishtriathlon.com.
Competitors may tackle the course, which consists of a .93-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike and a 6.2-mile run as individuals or relay teams split between two or three people.
The relay option gives athletes who do not want to try the full-length triathlon a chance to compete as part of a team in the individual events that best suit their skill-set.
Registration for the USA Triathlon-sanctioned Big Fish before May 1 is $70 for individuals and $90 after the early registration deadline.
"This event is endearing to my heart because I first got my love of triathlons on Chautauqua Lake," said race co-director Patty Gabreski.
The Warren, Pa., native Gabreski fell in love with triathlon competition after participating in her first race during the 1990s in Bemus Point.
"It ran for a few years and was very well liked, it just got so big that it was difficult to maintain, so it didn't continue," she recalled.
After moving to Bemus Point, Gabreski was looking for a way to improve her own swimming ability, and started a local interest group at the Turner Fitness Center at Chautauqua Institution.
"It is four years now that (the group) meets every Sunday morning. It is a swim group that I started so that I could work on my swim times and it has just taken on a life of its own. The triathlon has grown from that group. Some of the members are now my dearest friends. Some of them are there for triathlon training, some are there for Masters swim training.''
While it was her own love of competition that drove Gabreski to start the Turner swim program, her interest in creating the Big Fish was putting together a community triathlon that is volunteer-driven.
That local focus shines through in the organization of the Big Fish. "It is all-volunteer, all of the money stays here," she said.
All of the proceeds from the Big Fish go towards Camp Onyahsa, and the race committee also makes contributions to local organizations that help sponsor the event.
Now that Gabreski and the race committee have had a full year to develop the organization of the race, more local businesses have had a chance to get involved.
"Jamestown Cycle Shop is a key supporter," Gabreski said. "They provide a lot of services for the race, like mechanical help on the road. We are also in the process of forming a triathlon club with them, so that is pretty special. We are calling ourselves the Nice-Tri Club."
Along with the Cycle Shop, the Big Fish coordinates with Bemus Point Pottery to provide prizes for the athletes, and works with local law enforcement and the Dewittville Fire Department to ensure the safety of competitors.
"We are big on doing things differently,'' Gabreski said. ''We always have great food for the athletes. This year we will have a DVD of the triathlon that we'll send out to the racers so everyone will get a DVD of the race that they participated in."
In the end what the Big Fish race committee is most proud of is the interest that it has generated in triathlons, and the volunteer efforts that make the event possible.
"We have all of these really key people that make it happen,'' Gabreski said. ''You can't do something like this without that kind of support."