No Swim? No Problem! Athletes Adjust to Altered St. Anthony’s Triathlon
As she approached the finish line of St. Anthony’s Triathlon on a wind-whipped Sunday morning, Lara Warn made a most surprising move in the race of her life. She stopped.
Amid the flood of emotions washing over her in that moment, Warn paused to hug a small group of close friends who had cheered her on and held up cut-out likenesses of her face and signs, including one that read, “Lara makes my (heart) skip a beat.”
For Warn, it wasn’t a matter of when she finished the St. Anthony’s Triathlon Sprint-Distance event – it was simply that she had competed in her first triathlon at all. She did it as a gesture of thanks to the medical staff of St. Anthony’s Hospital that raced into action to save her life after suffering a massive heart attack only six months ago. And she did it to send a message that heart attacks can strike people in seemingly excellent physical shape, as she was, and without any clear-cut symptoms – especially for women.
“I feel such a sense of gratitude,” Warn said minutes after crossing the line. “I’m just choked up. All my friends were there. I’m alive. I get to be here – and I finished.”
Warn provided the emotional highlight in the 40th St. Anthony’s Triathlon held along downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront – a world-renowned competition that proceeded without the swim due to heavy winds that gusted up to 45 miles per hour. After making that call on Saturday, event organizers, led by race director Patrick McGee, substituted a run-bike-run format: 1.4-mile run in place of the swim, followed by the standard 25-mile bike leg and the 6.2-mile run in the Olympic category and 1.25 miles, 15 miles and 3.1 miles in the Sprint.
In spite of the initial inclement weather, which included early-morning rain and a threat of a tornado, the sun eventually pushed through the overcast skies as Jason West won the men’s professional men’s race on the adjusted course in a time of 1:33:46 – the first St. Anthony’s victory in five attempts for the Boulder, CO, resident. Meanwhile, Paula Findlay won the women’s pro division for the second consecutive year – now two-for-two here in her career – in a time of 1:46:09.
To see highlights from the St. Anthony's Triathlon, visit: Facebook/StAnthonysTriathlon
Rounding out the men’s top three were last year’s winner, Matthew Sharpe (1:35:57) and Nicholas Quenet (1:36:29). In the women’s pro event, Vittoria Lopes (1:48:23) was second while Lisa Becharas (1:49:09) came in third.
In the Sprint Triathlon, the top three women were Celia Dubey (1:05:19), Mariaangel Lozada (1:06:57), and Abby Beltrani (1:08:58), while the top three male finishers were Alcides De Quesada (59:57), Ragnar Mendez (1:01:37) and Brian Durden (1:02:36).
“You always want to swim,” West acknowledged, “but that’s the triathlon – you never know what you’ll have to deal with and you have to be ready to adapt. I’ve been second and third here so many times that it really feels great to win it.”
Findlay was thrilled to keep her St. Anthony’s streak alive, especially given the added challenges. “It’s great – obviously a way different race from last year with the canceled swim, but it’s a good way to start the season,” said the Canadian native from Edmonton, Alberta. “There were a lot of unknowns. It was really windy and overall challenging from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever been the defending champion and I’m so excited. The community support here is amazing, the volunteers are great and it’s always a race that I love coming back to.”
McGee echoed that sentiment. “We had an excellent field, exceptional sponsors and, of course, the absolute best fans and volunteers, who all made adjustments to accommodate the weather and support this incredible event.”
The day before the Olympic and Sprint races, skies were blue for the St. Anthony’s Meek & Mighty Triathlon. More than 500 athletes – from the young to the young at heart – swam in the pool, biked and ran to cross the finish line. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch welcomed the competitors to the event and thanked everyone for their participation.
Among those 500 competitors were 10 children from Woodlawn Elementary School who were trained again by the BayCare Kids Wellness and Safety team, which is based at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa. The Wellness and Safety team and St. Anthony’s began working with the students a couple of years ago to turn the children’s play – swimming, biking and running – into a sport. The children enjoyed the Triathlon again this year and many said they hoped to come back in 2024.
While some of the Woodlawn kids were competing in their second triathlon, the Sunday Sprint race was a first for Warn who never even thought of competing in such an event. But then everything changed on Oct. 24, 2022, after she felt a brief pinch and burning sensation in her chest during a workout at a local gym. Instead of ignoring the symptoms, she drove herself to the St. Anthony’s Hospital Emergency Center. Once there, she learned she had suffered a major heart attack and her life was saved only by the quick work of Jason Levine, MD, and cardiology team members.
In the aftermath, a friend of Warn’s, Matt Koehler, suggested she compete in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon and the idea clicked – as a way to give thanks to the hospital, and raise awareness about heart attacks. Koehler joined Warn for the race Sunday along with two other friends, Anjelah Pacheco, whose father died 10 years earlier from a heart attack, and Kierstyn Kellin, who is pregnant. “We had a really neat group of four – a full circle of life,” Warn said.
Warn began her morning at 6 a.m. doing live local television spots for the first time in her life – with channels 8, 10 and 13 – calmly telling her story and stressing the need to remain aware of potential symptoms. “It’s not one size fits all with heart attacks,” was her consistent message.
Then, at 9 a.m., Warn was off and running. “I think I cried for about half the race,” she would say later. Along the route, she drew energy from people who know her – including police at different intersections, who exhorted her on. And there was her personal cheering section, including girlfriend Amber Clayton, and pals from her Pup Active canine online apparel company. “I’m just so proud of her,” Clayton said.
“The cool part about this race, which I fell in love with today, is that everyone is so nice,” Warn said. “Obviously, there’s competition, but just the fact that you finish is good enough. So I just feel overwhelmed in the best way – I’m so grateful to be alive. That might sound like a cliché. But it’s very true.”