The Steamboat Pentathlon: The Place to Race and Volunteer

It’s a calling for world-class athletes, seasoned ironman triathletes, adventure racing juggernauts and outdoor warriors. People say it’s not for the faint of heart.

The first Steamboat Pentathlon was held in 1992. It was an effort to invigorate late winter crowds and boost out of town visits. Since then, the one-of-a-kind Pentathlon has brought athletes from all around the state and all stretches of our local competitive landscape. Hardcore and quirky, the Pentathlon epitomizes what Steamboat’s all about.

The race features two courses. The standard course is a combination of a 500 vertical foot climb up Emerald followed by a ski down, a 2.4 mile snowshoe, a 5.6 mile Nordic ski, a 12.8 mile mountain bike ride and a 3.2 mile run. The short course is a 300 vertical foot climb up and ski down, 1.6 mile snowshoe, 1.9 mile Nordic ski, 7.4 mile mountain bike ride and 2 mile run.

But more and more, people are calling the Steamboat Pentathlon a community event. Even with its tangible intensity, competitive zeal, three month training schedules, transition area perfectionism, VO2 max calculations, electrolyte monitoring and carb consuming, it truly is about community. It’s about family and fun. It’s a day in the winter snow (hard ice pack or sugary slush) or spring sun (cloudless, boundless bluebird skies) where people show up to cheer, laugh, breathe and enjoy.

The Steamboat Pentathlon 2015 was a Coloradan bluebird day.

The Steamboat Pentathlon 2015 was a mild and sunny Coloradan bluebird day.

This year’s Pentathlon was the 24th annual. It was also the 4th consecutive year that Horizons has volunteered for the event. Led by Vocational Specialist Mike Dwire and Volunteer Coordinator Tommy Larson, people who work at Horizons and people who participate in the programs have come out to help.

Three of this year's volunteers: Jaimee, Tommy and Paula.

Three of this year’s volunteers: Jaimee, Tommy and Paula.

This year, their station was the midway point of the event’s first leg, the climb up, ski down. A quick ride on the Snowcat to the top of Emerald and the Horizons volunteer team was ready to monitor the station, point racers in the right direction, collect athletes’ clothing and bring it down to the bottom once the leg was finished. Back at the transition site, the team separated clothes and shoes, helping to restore order in an event made as much of gear as it is of grit.

Race coordinators attest to the fact that the Pentathlon cannot be done without volunteers. With Adult, Team, Duo, Youth, Standard and Short course categories, plus a new Adult Chariot Division, race numbers have swelled in recent years to 270 participants. Volunteers help racers on the course—handing out water and energy replacements, cheering them on, and perhaps most importantly, keeping them on the right course amidst the dynamic, spirited buzz of the energized, determined and charismatic racers.

Three-time volunteer Jaimee Purcell Sexton has a blast at the event. Tommy Larson calls her an old pro. “It’s a great opportunity to meet people you’ve never met before,” Jaimee says. “You get to cheer people on. It’s so much fun, I would recommend it to anyone.”

Having fun is just one of the perks of volunteering at the Pentathlon. Supported Living Services and Day Program counselor Paula Lotz helped out this year and says, “Most of the time at Horizons, we’re on the receiving end of giving. It was cool to be on the giving end this time.” It’s great to be able to give—that’s what the volunteer program is all about. It’s also about being part of a community, getting out into it and having a presence. According to Tommy, “Wherever we go, we try to be visible. We knew so many of the racers and we got to show them our support. There was a lot of clapping and a lot of enthusiasm. This year, it was sunscreen, lip balm and laughing.”

The Pentathlon has evolved into a harmonious balance of the red zone, adrenalin craving ultra athletes with family oriented and fun loving, (borderline) ridiculous mountain town fanatics (with team names like “The Heavy Equipment Operators,” “The Frozen Chosen,” “Miller Time,” and “Wizzpoppers”). It’s a community event for all, where people get to show their true colors, push to new limits, create adventurous memories and redefine typical.

The view from the climb up, ski down volunteer station on Emerald (before the mad rush of racers).

The view from the climb up, ski down volunteer station on Emerald (before the mad rush of racers).