When Thomas Hill founded the Redman Triathlon back in 2005, he had one goal in mind: to see it become one of the best " if not the best " triathlon event in the world. As Oklahoma City prepares to host the sixth-annual edition of the Redman, that goal is definitely within sight.
Athletes worldwide will converge near Lake Hefner on Saturday to test themselves and their resolve against a diverse field that features both world-class competitors and weekend warriors. More than 800 participants, including 253 women, are scheduled to compete in either the full-distance triathlon or the half-distance triathlon.
The grueling full-distance race is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile marathon over a fast, rolling hills-style course that begins along Lake Hefner's north shore.
Over the past five years, the Redman has more than doubled in size of competitors. More importantly, its reputation has experienced tremendous growth throughout the international triathlon community. Oklahoma City has, by all accounts, become a key destination for many serious triathletes.
"Our goal, first and foremost, has always been to produce a world-class event," said Hill, Redman Triathlon president. "We want people to have the best possible experience they can have. We want to paint Oklahoma " and particularly Oklahoma City " in a great light and basically show everyone that we do it right."
In fact, Hill and company have done it so right the last few years, USA Triathlon chose the 2009 version of the Redman as one of its long-course national championships, which attracted more than 1,800 participants and further entrenched Oklahoma City as a major stop for triathletes.
The 2009 Redman was such a success that USA Triathlon chose Oklahoma City as one of three sites " along with Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Henderson, Nev. " to repeat as a host city for its championship series, which takes place every three years. So, in 2012, the Redman again will be one of the long-course national championship events.
"The Redman is referred to as a world-class event because we do it up right," said Dave Wood, the event's race director since 2006. "Once you establish that standard, the word spreads and it becomes attractive to more and more athletes. And that is evident in the numbers and types of competitors we draw."
This year's Redman field has participants from as far away as Germany, England, Australia and Brazil, as well as almost all of the 50 states, including 314 Oklahoma-based athletes. The age groups are divided into five-year increments, beginning at 17 and going all the way up to a 66-and-older division.
"I have been fortunate enough to travel to any number of triathlon events around the country the last few years, and Oklahoma has earned a great reputation among triathletes thanks to the Redman and the fantastic job that group does putting on this event," said Steve Schlegel, owner of Schlegel Bicycles and a competitor in the full-distance race this year.
Several sports claim to be "America's fastest growing sport," but according to an August 2010 report from USA Triathlon, triathlon participation is at an all-time high. In 1999, the USAT had just more than 19,000 registered triathlete members, compared to 135,000 this year.
As the sport grows, the people behind the Redman Triathlon are committed to keeping pace and making sure the event remains a favorite among competitors.
"We work hard to put on the type of event we feel meets the expectations of all of the participating athletes. That is what we always strive for," said Wood. "All of our competitors " world-class or not " are treated like it's a big-time event, because it is."
Some 27 corporate sponsors and more than 1,100 volunteers are involved, providing services and making sure everything goes as planned.
"To put on this type of event, it takes a total team effort. That is critical to our success," Wood said.
The Redman benefits the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society of Oklahoma. For more information, visit www.redmantriathlon.com. "Jay C. Upchurch
photo Former Oklahoma City resident Justin Wolfe makes his away across the finish line during last year's Redman Triathlon. Photo/James Randell Photography