By ZACHARY DZURICK
Special to The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Hometown heroes flooded the streets of Downtown Cleveland on Sunday for the 29th annual Cleveland Triathlon.
The winners of the headline Olympic race were two Greater Cleveland natives who have traveled the world but the true champions were the clients and families of the United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland.
For the last eight years the agency has used the race, which starts and finishes near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Voinovich Park on East 9th Street as a fundraiser. Using modified equipment, families swim, bike and run together in the event that not only raises money but spirits.
Six years ago, Willoughby native AJ Baucco competed in the Cleveland Triathlon as an amateur. He has spent the last five years competing as an Ironman professional. Saturday was his first return Cleveland race. He won with a time of 1:56:05.
“This is kind of a homecoming after racing all over the world,” Baucco said. “It means a lot to come back and do this race. It is also amazing to see these kids and families involved in the race. It is very motivating and it pushes me a little harder. Watching the families push the kids in the stroller carts was awesome. It is a great family event.”
Lakewood’s Katie Spotz was the female winner of the Olympic race with a time of 2:22.52. Spotz, who is also a regular Ironman participant, made worldwide headlines in 2010 when she set the world record for the youngest solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. This was only Spotz’s second Olympic length triathlon.
“Running a triathlon was on my bucket list that I made when I was 18,” Spotz said. “I also wanted to channel it into raising money for clean water.”
Spotz said she is just $500 away from her group’s $5,000 goal to provide clean water for two schools in South Africa. For more information, visit here website, katiespotz.com, where 100 percent of the funds go to the cause.
The Cerebral Palsy families also inspired Spotz.
“In each race there is point where you feel sorry for yourself and it is a reality check that there are so many other people that have challenges on a daily basis,” Spotz said. “It was so cool to see them run with the strollers and to see how happy they were to be on the race course.”
The highlight of the event was the cheers and smiles as each family team crossed the finish line. One of the loudest cheers came from Alex Lozano and Team Alex. This was Alex’s third race, but this year was extra special. Alex, who has Cerebral Palsy, challenged his autistic brother, Austin, and his brother Brandon to join him.
“I called out my brothers,” Alex said. “They did good.”
His mother was proud of the entire family.
“It was so inspiring to see them run together,” Debbie Lozano said. “We had over 30 family members come out at 7 a.m. to cheer them on.”
Team Rizzo has also been involved for the last three years.
“My six-year old daughter Julia loves the outdoors,” John Rizzo said. “So the training and the race are right up her alley. It is so inspirational watching her and the other kids participate and despite the odds stacked against them finish the race. It is a good check in with yourself that the things you think are important but really aren’t. It is about the kids and their smiles.”
Last year, Team Ethan and the friendship between Ethan Fairhurst and his classmate Rachel Prior inspired the community. This year, the team increased from 27 to 37 runners. Rachel and Ethan upgraded to the Super Sprint race.
“Because of her age, Rachel could have stayed in the kids race but she wanted a new challenge,” Ethan’s mother, Sarah Fairhurst said. “Being involved in the race has been an amazing experience. To go from being worried if Ethan would ever have friends to seeing the community rally around him, it is very overwhelming.”
UCP president and CEO Trish Otter said each year new families are inspired to join.
“It is contagious and they get a lot of support in our building,” Otter said. “They hear about it and start training. So on race day you see the families here with their kids being supported by the community. Seeing that support is the highlight of the day.”
Wadsworth’s Justin Crooks won the Super Sprint with a time of 44:45. It was Crooks’ third triathlon and second Super Sprint.
“It is so inspirational seeing people with Cerebral Palsy competing,” Crooks said. “If they can do it why not you. They give you so much energy. It was my first win and it was a lot of fun as it is a great charity to raise money for.”
Joshua Barry won the Sprint race with a time of 1:13:43 and Margaret McParland was the top female Sprint finisher with a time of 1:19:29.
Overall this year’s race had about 500 participants, with 120 being part of one of the UCP teams. Last year’s event, in conjunction with another event at the same time, raised over $175,000. The goal for this year’s event was $75,000, with the other event moved to the fall. Those wishing to learn more about UCP and how to get involved can visit their website.
This article was shared from Cleveland.com
By Zachary Dzurick on July 26, 2015