News-Sun photo by KATARA SIMMONS Rain or shine, Don Elwell has been waiting at the finish of every Heartland Triathlon encouraging athletes as they head toward the line.
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published: Friday, June 15, 2012
Don Elwell: the voice of the Triathlon
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Don Elwell's face lights up when he's asked about the Heartland Triathlon. He has been the voice of the race ever since it's inception in 2006.
"It's the coolest thing," Elwell said. "Everybody has a successful race. No one is in a bad mood, it's a feel-good day."
The seventh annual Heartland Triathlon will be held this weekend in Sebring, centered around City Pier Beach. The kids races will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. The adult race starts at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
"The local support is amazing," he added, "cheering the athletes on and hanging out at the finish line. It's a very rewarding experience. You don't get that too often."
Elwell said he didn't ever want to stop being the emcee. He feels fortunate and honored every time he is asked.
As emcee, Elwell has seen it all from up close -- his 6-foot-8 1/2 height helps, of course, as he has an unobstructed view.
While the sight of the waves of athletes swarming up from City Pier Beach, jumping on their bicycles and tearing off on the second phase of the triathlon is thrilling, he said, the real drama and emotion is at the finish line.
"When we have challenged athletes, or older ones, cross the finish line, even if it's two hours later, you would think (from the cheers) that person had won the race."
He spoke of the year Team Prescott ran the race to honor Jackie Prescott, who had died the year before during a bicycle ride. Prescott had pushed family members and friends into entering the Heartland Triathlon from the start.
They were all in identical green shirts, Elwell said. "I got choked up as they came across the finish line."
Elwell said he is very impressed with the kids who do their race on Saturday.
""I'm impressed with their effort. You see red faces and huffing and puffing."
One of the favorite parts of his job is encouraging racers during those last few yards to the finish line.
"I really, really want to recognize each runner," Elwell said, although every once in a while an athlete's number card has fallen off, or the numbers inked on their arms have run because of the sweat, or a sizable group arrive at the same time. "I absolutely try to name each one," he said.
It was when Elwell was on the Sebring Chamber of Commerce board that he was asked to emcee the race.
Although an experienced master of ceremonies, he had never done a race before. "I just faked it," he said smiling.
The day is almost as grueling for him as it is for the athletes. He arrives at 4:30 a.m. to help set up the finish line and assists in getting everything where it needs to be. Elwell emphasized he is only one of as many as 150 volunteers, each one of whom is essential to the popularity and success of the tri.
At 7 a.m., as anyone in the neighborhood can tell you, Elwell turns up the loud and raucous (his words) music -- music that is meant to get the heart pounding, the blood flowing and the soul soaring. Then he stands in the sun, microphone in his hand, keeping spectators pumped and participants encouraged.
"By the end of the day," he said, "I'm toasted from the sun and my voice is gone. I always lose four to five pounds from just standing there. By the time I get home it's usually nap time."
He wouldn't have it any other way. Seeing the athletes -- young, old or challenged; getting-in-shape novices or highly fit experts -- giving their all, in hot sun or pouring rain, he feels obligated to give his all, too. Especially as he knows how difficult running a triathlon can be.
"If I entered the race," he said grinning, "it would be dark by the time I finished."
Don Elwell (by: Mike Mitchell - 8/26/2012)
I want to contact Don Elwell who grew up in Ft. Walton Beach at the Anchoreage Motell on wonderful Okaloosa Island
scheduling of the triathlons (by: linda swenson - 6/16/2012)
Sunday is our rest day from the 6 days of muchness and manyness - I am really pleased that this event is enjoyed and many support it. This is a grand community
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