By JOE FERRARO
While they help triathletes grind through a grueling 320-mile triathlon on the Big Island, they catch the Ultraman bug.
The support crew members – many of them are triathletes themselves – wind up joining the tight-knit family known as the Ultraman World Championships field.
Honolulu’s Timothy Robert will become a full-fledged family member at this year’s race, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday on the Big Island.
Robert is the only triathlete in the 35-member world championship field competing in his first Ultraman-distance race.
Brazil’s Alexandre Ribeiro, who has won three of the past four Ultraman world titles and five overall, will return to defend his men’s title while Amber Monforte, of Reno, Nev., will shoot for her third consecutive women’s crown.
Robert and Bill Conner were support crew members for Massachusetts triathlete David Wilson last year, and Robert became drawn to the camaraderie surrounding the race.
The 47-year-old Robert is a retired Marine who continues to work as a government civilian, while Conner still serves as an active-duty Marine.
“As I watched the race took place, everybody was cheering for each other,’’ Robert said of last year’s Ultraman. “It wasn’t a competition. It was people cheering and helping others get through it. It was something I wanted to be a part of.”
That cheering and encouragement, Robert said, took place on and off the Ultraman course. Competitors often eat together on Friday evenings before embarking on a 171.4-mile bike ride from Volcano to Hawi and on Saturday evenings before taking on a 52.4-mile run from Hawi to the finish line at Kailua-Kona’s Old Kona Airport Park.
“At the end of each day’s events, as the athletes are recovering and eating dinner, everybody’s telling people, ‘Great job,’”Robert said.
“It’s not like, ‘I’m in my little corner, and I’m going to win this thing.’”
Robert admitted to being nervous about this weekend’s race, but he also feels prepared.
He has competed in two Ironman-distance races: Ironman France last year and Ironman New Zealand in 2010.
“I’ve never done a race of this distance before where all the other participants have done it, so there’s a little bit of an unknown,’’ he said. “But I’ve done the preparation, and it’s just a matter of executing.”
Two years ago, Waimea’s Wendy Minor was in the same boat: a triathlete competing in her first Ultraman after having served on a support crew the previous year. But the 67-year-old hasn’t strayed from the Ultraman scene.
In fact, she’ll serve as Robert’s water escort during the race’s 6.2-mile swim from Kailua Bay to Keauhou Bay on Friday. Each
triathlete can have one support crew member on a kayak or a one-man canoe during the swim.
Robert sees himself following in Minor’s path. He said he has met a handful of people who have flown to the Big Island for the past seven years just to assist triathletes as support crew members.
“I can definitely see myself coming back as a crew for everybody else,’’ Robert said. “It’s that kind of spirit that’s here.”
When reflecting on the bonds athletes have created at Ultraman, race director Jane Bockus called the days leading up to this year’s
Ultraman World Championships “old home week.’’
“People are coming home,’’ she said.
At a glance
What: Three-day, 320-mile (515-kilometer) individual ultra-endurance
event that circumnavigates Hawaii Island
When: Friday-Sunday, Begins at Kailua Bay; ends at Kailua-Kona’s Old Kona Airport Park
Who: The race will have 35 athletes, including defending men’s champion Alexandre Ribeiro (22:09:54) and defending women’s champion Amber Monforte (24:42:02).
Where: Stage I begins at 6:30 a.m. Friday with a 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) ocean swim from Kailua Bay to Keauhou Bay, followed by a 90-mile (145-kilometer) bike ride from Keauhou to Namakani Paio Park at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Stage II, a 171.4-mile
(276-kilometer) bike ride from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to Hawi, begins at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Stage III’s 52.4-mile (84-kilometer) double marathon run, which begins at 6 a.m., starts in Hawi and finishes in Kailua-Kona’s Old Kona Airport Park.
No. Name Sex/age Country Rep
576 Josef Ajram M34 Spain
577 Ellis Andrews M68 Canada
578 Kevin Becker M48 Canada
579 Laurie Beers F58 United States
580 Michael Brown M39 Canada
581 Katherine Calder-Becker F48 Canada
582 Rusty Carter M37 United States
583 Nino Cokan M39 Slovenia
584 Juan Craveri M44 Argentina
585 Suzy Degazon F48 Puerto Rico
586 Michael Deitchman M36 United States
587 Christopher Draper M35 United States
588 Mark Ford M50 United States
589 Cory Foulk M51 United States
590 Ingrid Hillhouse F39 United States
591 Stephen Johnson M50 Canada
592 Miro Kregar M50 Slovenia
593 Trung Lively M44 United States
594 Alan Macpherson M39 Great Britain
595 Tracey McQuair F37 Canada
596 Yasuko Miyazaki F35 Japan
597 Amber Monforte F34 United States
598 Joni Moore F46 United States
599 Peter Mueller M50 Switzerland
600 Tony O’Keeffe M51 Canada
601 Amy Palmeiro-Winters F40 United States
602 Roberto Parseghian M42 Brazil
603 Roland Patzina M46 Germany
604 Adam Peruta M34 United States
605 Martin Raymond M50 Canada
606 Alexandre Ribeiro M47 Brazil
607 Timothy Robert M47 United States
608 Vito Rubino M34 Italy
609 Gary Wang M44 United States
610 Kathy Winkler F46 United States