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Competition, And Family, Are Focus At Montauk Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Cailin Riley   Jul 22, 2013 3:10 PM
Jul 23, 2013 9:11 AM

For the athletes who compete in the annual Montauk Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon, getting to the finish line as quickly as possible is certainly a priority. But according to both the competitors and organizers, it’s far from the only focus.

The triathlon—which tests athletes over a half-mile swim, 13.5-mile bike ride and 5K (3.1-mile) run—is as much a family event as a competition, they say, which is part of what makes it so appealing. Add in what competitors call the most beautiful finish a triathlon can offer—a run to the famous lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean—and it’s easy to see why the triathlon has become so popular.

A total of 700 people registered for the event, which closes registration out at that number to keep the crowds to a manageable size on a busy summer weekend; registration closes out months before the event. Tom Eickelberg, 24, of Cortland, New York, kept his winning streak alive in the triathlon, taking first for the third year in a row with a time of 1:05:16. He had a comfortable lead over second-place finisher Ryan Siebert, 22, of Patchogue (1:08:38). David Powers, 46, of Wainscott was third in 1:08.57, followed by Eric Florio, 26, of East Williston (1:11:05); Joseph Braunreuther, 27, of New York (1:11:51); Ken Moore, 38, of Sayville (1:12:27); Tim Steiskal of Naugatuck, Connecticut (1:12:57); Brian MacArthur, 25, of Boulder, Colorado (1:13:09); Julian Acevedo, 27, of Forest Hills (1:13:18); and Chris Bergquist, 42, of Mastic (1:13:19).

Karen Pompay, 43, of Garden City was the top female finisher in 1:17:17 (19th overall), followed by Nadine Moors, 35, of Shirley (1:17:43, 22nd overall). Jessica Lester, 24, of Long Beach was the third female finisher (35th overall) in 1:21:14, followed by Kira Garry, 20, of Montauk (1:22:17, 41st overall) and Betsy Eickelberg, 21, of Leonia, New Jersey (1:23:33, 44th overall).

Tom Eickelberg said that while he makes a living from competing in triathlons—in addition to being the assistant swim coach at SUNY Cortland—he has become a big fan of the Montauk sprint event because of the way it brings his entire family together. His father, sister and father’s friend also competed in the triathlon, while several other family members and friends were on hand to support them. The family rented a house in Montauk for the week, making the triathlon the highlight of their vacation.

“It’s a big family race for me,” Eickelberg said, also adding that his main sponsors—Western Beef, PowerBar, the Babylon Bike Shop and Long Island Tri Coaching—are also heavily involved in the organization and management of the race.

Eickelberg—who set the course record with a time of 1:02:33 in 2011—was a runner and swimmer with, as he put it, “middling success” when he was a student at Adelphi University. During that time, he realized that his strength lay in triathlons, which his father, Bill, encouraged him to try. The younger Eickelberg turned pro when he was still in college, and now competes mostly in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. The Olympic distance is roughly twice as long as the sprint distance (1.5-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 10K/6.2-mile run). Eickelberg does not generally compete in the longer half-Ironman or Ironman distances. He is coached by Mike Monastero at the Babylon Bike Shop, who also coaches Siebert and Florio.

Eickelberg said that overall, the conditions were good on Sunday, and that the biggest challenge was strong current in the swim, which took place at Gin Beach. He said the swim took him roughly three minutes longer than it had in previous years because of that current.

“The weather was great,” Eickelberg said. “I was worried it was going to be a thousand degrees. With the current, the swim just took a lot longer. But the bike was great, and the run was awesome. It was pretty cloudy for most of it, so you didn’t have the sun cracking down on you.”

Eickelberg didn’t waste much time establishing himself as the triathlete to beat. He had a 20-second lead coming out of the water, and said he saw his mother roughly a third of the way through the bike portion, and she told him he had extended his lead to 47 seconds. At the halfway point of the run, there is a turnaround on the course, and Eickelberg said he knew at that point that he would be the winner.

Pompay, on the other hand, had to fight a little harder for the honor of top female finisher. The attorney and mother of four, who finished second last year, was behind ultimate second-place finisher Moors until the final mile of the run.

“At about mile two, I was 10 or 15 yards behind her, so I decided to sprint to pass her and try to hold on, which I did,” Pompay explained. “I never looked back. She’s a strong runner, so I knew it was going to be tough.”

Pompay did the Montauk triathlon last year for the first time, when she was in the middle of training for an Ironman triathlon, and she said she used the sprint triathlon as part of that training. This year, she said, she took it a bit more seriously as an event unto itself, and had a faster time as a result. Pompay is not a professional triathlete, but said she was a swimmer for most of her life and started doing triathlons a few years ago for fun.

“I just don’t like to sit around,” Pompay said when asked how she found time to train for triathlons with a job and four children. “I just love it. I enjoy the training as much as the racing.”

Pompay said she was drawn to the Montauk triathlon for reasons similar to Eickelberg’s.

“I’m good friends with [race director Jose Lopez],” she said. “It’s a beautiful race and a spectacular venue, and there’s no finish like the finish at this race.”

Lopez, who is in his 18th year at the helm of the triathlon, said he was pleased with the way the day turned out.

“Considering the weather we just had, the conditions were really ideal,” he said.

He also echoed the sentiments of Pompay and Eickelberg in saying that the triathlon has an atmosphere that is rare to find in most competitive events.

“It’s a very family-oriented race,” he said. “A lot of people choose to make it their vacation. A huge number of people sign up as a reunion type of race and come from other states. You see a lot of families and babies at the finish line.”

Several people competed in the triathlon as a relay team, with either two or three members splitting up the events. The Lester Boys team, a father and son team from Long Beach, finished first in 1:18:09.

Full results can be found at http://results.active.com/events/montauk-point-lighthouse-sprint-triathlon.

After the costs for putting on the event are covered, all proceeds go to the Montauk Lighthouse.

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