Early in the morning of Sunday, May 17, thousands of athletes will descend on Centennial Park in Ellicott City, eager to dive into the chilly waters of Lake Centennial and kick off the first leg of the Columbia Triathlon. Now in its 32nd year, the triathlon draws participants from all over the U.S. and is run on what’s considered one of the toughest courses in the country.
The race is organized by The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, a nonprofit organization that supports and educates young people with cancer and their families.
Triathlon participants are an impressive bunch — dedicated to training for the challenging race and passionate about making the world a better place. We talked to three local competitors about the inspiring stories that led them to swim, bike and run.
Racing to honor friend Ken Caputo
For Columbia resident Stephanie Blades, the Columbia Triathlon is all about family and community. This year, the 35-year-old, who began her triathlon career in 2007 at Columbia’s IronGirl Triathlon, will race with a group, several dozen strong, honoring Ken Caputo, a friend and fellow triathlete who died last fall.
“The Columbia Triathlon would have marked his 40th birthday weekend,” says Blades, who met Caputo through racing. “Ken’s first triathlon was the Columbia Triathlon back in 2004. He was everyone’s friend — funny, loving and your biggest supporter. He loved triathlons for the healthy lifestyle, but also for the community of people it created. Ken embodied the spirit of racing and pushing yourself beyond limits, but also giving back to the community at the same time. He was always racing for a charity or volunteering with a charity, even when he wasn’t racing.”
Caputo’s passing has put life in perspective for Blades. “It was shocking,” she says. “It was eye-opening, a reminder to embrace every single day and embrace each other.”
Blades also demonstrates that spirit of community involvement and giving back. “I race to push myself, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, to be a positive role model for my daughter and to be involved with a kinder community,” she says. Blades’ husband, David, also races in triathlons. He first competed in the Columbia race in 2004; Blades says his hard work and determination inspires her own training.
Blades’ involvement in the community includes a role as the Howard County coordinator for Athletes Serving Athletes, a nonprofit that pairs youths and young adults with disabilities with able-bodied athletes to compete in running and multisport events. She is also on the board of Girls on the Run of Central Maryland.
Anthony “Buzz” Krohn
Racing for the Wounded Warrior Project
Anthony “Buzz” Krohn started his career as a triathlete in June 2013 at the Rocky Gap International Triathlon. Since then, the 40-year-old has completed 16 triathlon and running events; in addition to the Columbia Triathlon, this year Krohn will compete in the Columbia Half Marathon and the Ironman Lake Placid.
“At the finish of every race I have done, and will do, I have been announced as Anthony Krohn, racing on behalf of his brother, Captain Jeff Krohn, a wounded warrior,” he says. Jeff is Buzz Krohn’s twin brother, a cancer survivor and an Iraq veteran who has been awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge. He was deployed with the Army in 2007 and 2009. In 2012, after returning to the U.S., Jeff Krohn was diagnosed and successfully treated for squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, caused during his deployment.
“Jeff and I are about as close as two twin brothers can be,” says Buzz Krohn. “His cancer diagnosis was an unforeseen shock to all of us in the family and especially to me. All of my family was a bit angered, if you will, that Jeff survived combat missions in Iraq, only to come home to cancer on his head. Tough times for a while, indeed.”
During Jeff’s deployment, Buzz asked him for advice about how to support him, and all the troops, from afar. On Jeff’s recommendation, Buzz got involved with the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Rides. In 2013, when Buzz started competing in triathlons, he decided to race for both cancer awareness and to support the troops. He is part of the Ulman Cancer Fund’s “Team Fight” and has also gotten permission from the Wounded Warrior Project to use its logo on his race kits.
“When he puts on that uniform — I call it his uniform — it means the world to us,” says Jeff Krohn. “When I see my twin, my best friend, doing this, it makes everything worthwhile. It’s amazing. It’s not just for me personally, but for all the wounded warriors.”
A Howard County resident since 1986, Buzz Krohn now lives in Mount Airy with his wife, Joanne, and their two children, who are also budding triathletes and have competed in the Columbia Kidz Triathlon. As a family, they spend as much time as possible with Jeff and his wife and children, who now live in South Carolina.
Racing for Samaritan’s Purse
When Phuc Gin crosses the finish line at the Columbia Triathlon, he’ll be finishing his first triathlon — but not his last, even in 2015. The Columbia resident, 25, has been running, competitively and just for fun, for years. This year, he decided to move beyond just running; after he cuts his teeth at the Columbia race, he’ll compete in triathlons in New York, Chicago and Baltimore.
For Gin, the Columbia race was a natural choice for his first triathlon. He grew up in the area and has cherished childhood memories of spending time in Centennial Park and can’t wait to “finally be able to swim in the lake.”
Gin’s work, in health-care data collection and analysis, combined with an educational background in public health, has inspired his interest in international public health projects. When he races this year, he’ll be raising funds for Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization.
“I’m trying to raise awareness and money to help the organization build a hospital in West Africa that can serve as a central health care system for people who contract Ebola,” Gin explains. “It’s an important cause for me, and I hope it encourages people to think about not just their own health but the health of others as well.”
Though Gin has not visited Africa, he’s been emotionally affected by news reports about life and health care conditions on the continent.
“It saddens my heart to read stories of families and children being forced away from their homes due to war and famine,” he says. “People move toward rural regions with no resources, no infrastructure, poor hygiene and sanitation, where disease outbreaks can easily spread.”
He notes that Ebola outbreaks in West Africa had about a 70 percent mortality rate in 2014. “That is such a high death rate,” he says. “Resources are lacking to treat disease outbreaks in Africa and especially lacking for Ebola.” That, he says, has motivated him to get involved, raising money for Samaritan’s Purse’s hospital-building initiatives.