While millions watch and root for the hundreds of thousands of international athletes participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hundreds of spectators gathered under a bright Lake Nockamixon sky to cheer on the more than 1,200 athletes competing in the Fourth Annual Steelman Triathlon. For the third year, this USA Triathlon-sanctioned race, which includes swimming, biking and running, took place on Aug. 10 at Lake Nockamixon State Park near Quakertown.As a USAT race, the athletes won points toward national rankings.

Organized by Dale Winterhoff, the triathlon event's founder and an American Athletic Union coach, and championed by the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the race benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a non-profit organization that grants the wishes of children suffering from life-threatening medical conditions. Last year's triathlon contributed $8,000 to grant a wish to a child who wanted to go to Atlantis to swim with the dolphins.

Promoted as the race organized "by triathletes for triathletes," the Steelman attracted athletes ranging from beginner level to top-level triathletes with two events. There was a sprint race, which involves an 800 yard swim, a 12.8 mile bike race and a 5K or 3.1 mile run. In the Olympic event, there was a 1600 yard swim, a 24.6 mile bike race and 10K or 6.2 mile run.

This year's swim took place in the 79 degree Fahrenheit temperature water of Lake Nockamixon, which was too warm to entitle the athletes to wear wet suits.

Under the direction of the Pennsylvania State Police, the bike course closed the four lanes of Route 563 between the hours of 7 and 10:30 a.m. The run was marked off for the shaded and flat paved trails that surround the lake. For the race's duration, the lake's park rangers closed the park to anyone not watching or participating in the race.

Enjoyed by all ages and levels of competitors for its professionalism, energizing music and great food, much of the Steelman's organizational success rests with the volunteer efforts made to set up the event and to provide a safe venue for the racers to compete.

Local AAU cross-country teams helped with registration and with manning the aid stations located along the race course.

Participating in his first triathlon, Alex Chacon, a former Southern Lehigh High School District 11 track champion, said he entered the competition because he liked the atmosphere of the race day last year when he was volunteering.

"I am a little nervous," said Chacon, 18, as he prepared for the race's sprint event.

Providing a water rescue team on race day and setting up for the swim event before the race were members of the Haycock Fire Department EMT.

Gretchen Francis, the depart-ment's battalion chief, and her team of volunteer firefighters and divers, were out in force the day before the race to place the nine buoys that marked the course. On race day, members of the Lake Nockamixon Sail Club were out on the lake in their boats to offer encouragement and assistance as needed to the swimmers.

To help with the finish line and awards ceremony were other volunteers: Team Tania, a friends and family team of the MS 150 bike ride, Bethlehem PreCast and ABE Fence.

To start the race, Ali Kincaid, a Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts student, sang the national anthem.

Carol Smith is a resident of Springtown and the former editor of The Bethlehem News. She can be contacted via e-mail at jpopichak@berksmontnews.com

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