The Chattanooga Track Club

Promoting Running and Fitness in Chattanooga

Birmingham's Doug Van Wie Wins Waterfront Triathlon
Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday was one of the hottest and most humid days of the summer in Chattanooga, but that didn’t keep more than 1,400 of the most fit triathletes in the Southeast from gathering at Ross’s Landing for the annual Waterfront Triathlon.


It all started with a 1.5K swim down the Tennessee River, followed by a 40K bike ride up past Red Bank and back while ending with a 10K out-and-back run along the Riverwalk.


Doug Van Wie, a 27-year-old software web designer from Birmingham who has only had his pro license about a month, was the first person out of the water as he won his first race as a pro.


His time of two hours, six minutes and 18 seconds was some 47 seconds ahead of runner-up Wil Emory of Old Hickory while Chattanooga’s Jack McAfee was third in 2:08:39.


Hallie Blunck, a 27-year-old from Mountain Brook – a suburb of Birmingham – was the overall female winner with a time of 2:12:28.


Anna Batttiata and Allison Stewart followed with times of 2:16:51 and 2:18:52.


Atlanta’s April Lea Gellatly, a 29-year-old triathlon consultant for CNN, was the first finisher among the female pros with a time of2:22:04.


Van Wie posted a time of 2:12 last year in his first race on Chattanooga’s course, so he was pretty pleased with a six-minute improvement.


He covered the swim in 17:32 while his bike segment lasted 1:05:06.  With the sun bearing down on a course that doesn’t offer much shade, he completed the 6.2-mile run in 41: 15.


“I come from a swimming background, so I tried to open up a nice lead right from the start,” he explained once it all ended.


“I tried to push the pace as much as possible on the bike and then just hang on in the run.  I didn’t want to have too much left at the end, but my time was six minutes faster than last year so that was a pretty good drop.


“Now I’ll just have to wait and see what the results are,” he concluded, knowing there were plenty of folks behind him.


The race began using a time-trial start, meaning that the swimmers began in numerical order with each following the one in front by three seconds.  Van Wie was wearing number 3, so he had plenty of open space in front of him the entire day.


Gellatly was wearing number 2, so she too was way up front.  She wasn’t able to defend her start position as well as Van Wie.  Her preference is the longer distance as she’s completed 10 Ironman races, including a best of just under 10 hours.


“I had a good swim and a pretty fast bike ride on a hilly course, but the run hurt me,” she said after exiting the finish chute.


“I like this city and have been here for this race five or six times.  It was just too hot today,” she added.


Brentwood’s Bruce Gennari won this race five or six times in earlier years when it was the Riverbend Triathlon and thenChattanooga’s Dam Triathlon.


He once had the fame of posting the fastest swim leg in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and he’s still better than most in all three events.


Even though he wasn’t a contender for overall honors, he was still able to post an outstanding time of 2:14:12, which was first place in the men’s 45-49 age group.


“Right now I’m not in good enough shape and it’s hot,” he said, further explaining that he had a major bike wreck a month ago and missed some valuable training while he recovered.


“I just wanted to race and I’ve always enjoyed coming here in the past.  Today’s weather was hot and humid and just stifling.


“It wasn’t a matter of who was the fastest as much as who’s the one who slowed down the least,” he nodded.


Most of Sunday’s finishers were from out of town, but there were still some familiar faces from the past.


One was Claire McVay, a 42-year-old mother of four who was a Hunt growing up.  She’s a 1987 GPS graduate who was an outstanding hurdler among other things during her prep career.


Sunday’s race was her first at the Olympic distance and she did quite well, finishing ninth in her age group with a time of 2:46:50.


“It was hard,” said the Outreach Coordinator for Senator Bob Corker while hanging out with family and friends trying to find a cool spot when her race ended.


“I had to hang on in the run while I just tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I need to do more training at stuff like this. Then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much,” she smiled.


Ricky Park is a 47-year-old Wealth Advisor for UBS in downtown Chattanooga.  He’s a veteran of many triathlons and marathons, but worn-out knees have slowed him in recent years.


“I think I did the first Riverbend Triathlon about 30 years ago, but it was so much fun today.  This is such a first-class event.


“I jogged and walked most of the run segment, but I just had to stay in front of my buddy George Skonberg.  After today’s race, I’ve decided to keep my day job,” he laughed after crossing the finish line in 2:56:04.


Sunday’s event, which was directed by Jenni Berz and Sherilyn Johnson of the Chattanooga Track Club along with experienced help from Team Magic out of Birmingham, also had at least 500 volunteers that helped make it another rousing success.


(Email John Hunt at


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