Aurora News Weekly
Steamboat Springs — The massive field of competitors for Sunday’s Steamboat Triathlon splashed through Lake Catamount and rolled and ran over the hills southeast of Steamboat Springs, hundreds of athletes soaking in what was a breezy but picturesque Yampa Valley morning.
Jennifer Roemmich didn’t run a step or swim a stroke, but, pushed, pulled and escorted throughout the race by Dennis Vanderheiden, the cerebral palsy-stricken athlete finished as one of the race’s biggest stars.
She can’t talk but said everything all with a wide smile after crossing Sunday’s finish line.
“This was just so great,” said Roemmich’s father, Bruce Roemmich, who’s lived in Steamboat Springs with his wife, Pam, for 11 years. “It’s so great for someone else to help Jennifer have fun besides her parents. It really helps promote her independence.”
Vanderheiden started his Athletes in Tandem program two years ago, motivated by Dick Hoyt, who pushes his son with cerebral palsy, Rick, in similar races.
On Sunday, Vanderheiden worked harder than any other racer, pulling Roemmich through the three-quarters of a mile swim in Lake Catamount in a raft, hitching a special chair behind his bike for the 22.4-mile bike ride and pushing her in a wheelchair for the 4-mile run, all, he said, to help her experience the thrill of the race he’s long loved.
Roemmich beamed from her seat, enjoying the wind in the face as she ticked off her first triathlon.
Nearly 500 athletes took part Sunday, and officials estimated there might have been three times that number at the Lake Catamount start and finish area throughout the day.
They cheered nearly every runner that came down the short hill beside the blue lake to cross the finish line for the close to 30-mile race.
They cheered louder for locals and longer for those who finished first — Denver’s Matt Smith won the men’s event and Steamboat’s Amy Charity took the women’s title — and those who finished last.
But no one got a reception quite like Vanderheiden and Roemmich, who were greeted with loud applause, then a standing ovation during an awards ceremony after the race.
“She had a great time,” Pam Roemmich said, describing her own emotions on the day by pointing to cheeks shimmering wet with tears.