University Park

Annual Sarasota Storm Tri Club at Nathan Benderson Park changes race route, race options

UNIVERSITY PARK -- At the 11th annual Sarasota Storm Tri Club race, completing a triathlon wasn't the only challenge available to the 250 athletes at Nathan Benderson Park on Sunday morning.

Participants also could take part in a mile-long swim around Regatta Island in addition to the 400-meter swim, 12-mile bike race and 3.1-mile run.

A different race route, separation of men's and women's races and the optional open-water swim around the island made The Wilde Storm Chaser race an experiment for the Sarasota Storm Tri Club.

This year, the race stayed within the confines of Nathan Benderson Park and allowed athletes to run and bike at full speed without worrying about vehicle traffic.

Race director Steve Butler said he is happy with the outcome of the race and excited about the flexibility the club has in planning next year's event.

"We wanted to make the most of facility and showcase it and make it so it benefited both the facility and the athletes," Butler said. "We got a lot of positive feedback." Some of that feedback, he said, came from the choice to separate the women's race from the men's race.

Triathlete Sandy Meneley said it's the first race in which she's competed against only women.

"Usually on the run, I'll pass the guys," Meneley, 68, said. "Sometimes they'll say, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"

She can't remember the exact number of triathlons she's completed, but it's more than 100. In 2012, she and her daughter, Lesley Brainard, traveled to Hawaii to compete in the 140-mile Ironman long-distance triathlon.

"Once you do one (race), you get hooked," Meneley said. "I really enjoy the training the most, and once I get over the nerves, I enjoy the race."

Sandy's husband, Fuzz Meneley, said she also enjoys another ele

ment of competition. "She likes beating the other people," he said, with a sly grin.

Meneley is a longtime a marathon runner and coached track and cross country in central Illinois until she retired. She and Fuzz Meneley moved to Holmes Beach 13 years ago, and she picked up swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. Her daughter, a triathlete coach, encouraged her to train and compete in triathlons because she already loved swimming and running.

Sandy Meneley coached Brainard on cross country in high school and now enjoys being coached by Brainard.

"She gives me my training plan, and I follow it," Sandy Meneley said. "It's neat how it's come full-circle." She spends two to three hours per day training for triathlons and takes a day off on Sunday.

After Sunday morning's race, Sandy Meneley said she would return to her home on Holmes Beach and likely would get right back into the water to enjoy a leisurely swim in the Gulf.

The Meneleys enjoy living the Florida life, and Sandy said she would rather train in Florida than Illinois any day.

"At least you have a breeze here, and I love this venue," she said, gesturing to the surrounding Nathan Benderson Park. In addition to showcasing the facility, The Wilde Storm Chaser also encourages physical activity and unites the community, said race co-director Nicole Chapman.

"It's showcasing the rowing facility, promoting a healthy lifestyle for people in the community and supporting the community by using local sponsors," Chapman said. "And we're promoting the sport. We want the sport to grow."

Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.