Athletes Escape from the Rock

By Matt Phelps

The sight of hundreds of athletes in wetsuits and brightly colored caps swimming away from Luther Burbank Park meant only one thing Sunday morning: the ninth annual Escape from the Rock Triathlon.

``This is a logical course and not specific distances,'' said Wendy Hunt, who organizes and produces the event with her husband Dave Horning.

The individual winner of the triathlon was Samuel Verkhovsky of Seattle with a time of 1:05.16.6. Alina Brown of Bellingham, Wash., was the first woman across the finish line with a time of 1:12.26.

``We had close to 65 percent women this year, which is a great turnout for this type of event,'' said Hunt.

The first Islanders across the finish line were Amy Lavin for the women in a time of 1:20.59.5, and her husband Aaron Lavin was the first Islander male across the finish line in a time of 1:09.01.8.

The event hosted people from as far away as Idaho and Oregon and many were first timers to Mercer Island.

``We have done a number of these before but we try to do a new one every year,'' said triathlete David MacDuff of Preston, Wash., who was competing with his wife Sara in their 15th triathlon. ``This one has a bit of a less defined path. But it is a very beautiful venue.''

More than 700 competitors took part in the individual and team triathlon events. The half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 2.5-mile run was grueling and sometimes unforgiving. But for most participants, it was a good experience.

The swim took place in Lake Washington just off of Luther Burbank Park. The Mercer Island High School girls swim and boys water polo teams acted as guides for the competitors. The athletes swam off th shore in waves. With their brightly colored swimming caps, the water at times looked as if a school of brightly colored fish were jumping about in the water.

Islander Kelly Sterling competed as a part of a team with friends, Aaron Levin on the biking portion and Don Maclane competing in the running event.

``This is a great event for Mercer Island residents,'' said Sterling. ``It is nice to be able to just drive down and take part.''

Sterling handed off to Levin, who rode his bike to the express lanes of Interstate 90, which was closed to traffic for the triathalon. The bikers made their way over the East Channel Bridge and then west over the floating bridge and back.

``It is a nice, fun ride,'' said Levin, who was doing his first relay but also competed individually. ``It is really nice to roll out of bed, roll down the hill and roll right back to the house.''

The triathlon was not held for a few years as organizers originally had the biking portion go around the Island instead of using the express lanes.

``It just shut down the entire Island, so we began thinking about using I-90 and that works great,'' said Hunt.

After the bike portion, Levin handed off to fellow Islander Mclane for the run. That portion of the race took place on the streets and through Luther Burbank Park. The run finished back at the bike hand-off where competitors were greeted with food and water to replenish their bodies. The team finished the race in 1:00.33.5. Thirty eight Islanders participated in the triathlon relay.

``I am going to be 50 next year so I think I want to try the whole thing myself,'' said Sterling.

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