OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Thousands of cheering spectators and determined athletes took to the water, streets and sands of Oceanside, Calif. March 31 for the seventh annual Ford Ironman 70.3 California triathlon.
The bang of a starting pistol at 6:40 a.m. echoed throughout Oceanside Harbor, signaling the beginning of the all-day event. From that point on, athletes from around the world swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles along the winding roads of Marine Corps Base Pendleton and ran a 13.1 mile half marathon through the streets of Oceanside.
Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit not only took on the challenge of competing in the event, but came to cheer on the competitors and help out by volunteering.
Capt. Karin R. Fitzgerald, from Iron River Mich. and a first time triathlon competitor with the 11th MEU, ran the half marathon portion as part of a relay team. Fitzgerald said she was hesitant because she has never been in a race before, much less a 13.1 mile race.
"The furthest I've ever ran before was 9 miles," she said. "During the race I was just focused on getting from one aid station to the next. In the end, it's mind over matter."
Fitzgerald said she enjoyed the camaraderie of all the athletes and was shocked by the amazing performances of some of the athletes.
"I was in awe of the sheer athletic prowess of the professionals there," she said.
Despite not being the fastest team, she said her team had a great time taking part in such a large event.
"I am definitely glad I did it," Fitzgerald said. "It encouraged me to try more marathons and triathlons in the future."
Also participating in the fun was Cpl. Nicholas J. Aleman of the 11th MEU from Brooklyn, N.Y. But Aleman didn't swim, bike or run, he stayed behind the scenes as a volunteer, guiding spectators from place to place and cheering on competitors.
"I wanted to volunteer because I am an avid fan of triathlons," he said. "It was cool seeing world class athletes up-close."
Aleman commented about the similarities of Marines and triathletes.
"As Marines we are constantly training because its part of our daily routine and we need to be ready," he said. "To see people that work so hard because they have a passion for it is inspiring."
As the sun began to set and the last of the athletes trickled past the finish line, the volunteers, many of which were Marines, got the opportunity to meet and talk with the athletes.
"A lot of the triathletes thanked Marines for serving our country," Aleman said. "It made me feel like the volunteering was worth it."