Hamilton Takes Final Trek of Academic Year

A participant in the 2007 HamTrek.
A participant in the 2007 HamTrek.
In an adventure that would make your average weekend warrior look rather feeble, this year's HamTrek competitors will once again be swimming 525 yards, biking nine miles and running 3.1 miles around the campus and in the village of Clinton. The event will begin in Hamilton College's Bristol Pool at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, May 9.

The combined 65,463 feet that competitors in the 5th annual HamTrek will cover is not for the faint of heart. No doubt they will be propelled forward by the enthusiastic support provided by legions of Hamilton spectators and course volunteers.

Athletes can enter this celebration of fitness and competition as individuals or as part of a three-person team. Those registering individually must complete all three events, but teams designate one participant for each.

The course starts and ends on the College campus but winds through the surrounding community. Athletes swim 21 lengths in Bristol Pool in waves of 16 swimmers at the 2:30 p.m. start. A staggered start is made possible by timing mechanisms worn on the competitors' ankles. Upon exiting, the swimmers must jog around Steuben Field and up a hill to the transition area in the Dunham Hall parking lot.

The long bike ride follows taking riders around College Hill, Griffin, Valley View, Norton and Campus Roads twice and finally back to the transition area for the five-kilometer run along Steuben and Royce Fields and Tompkins Golf Course.

The three fastest male and female individuals and male, female and coed teams receive awards. Teams not in the top three can also win prizes for best residence hall, best department, best varsity sport, best society or club, best costumed and – just for fun – most average and slowest team.

Although many HamTrek participants find the triathlon fun in itself, many others can't wait until the race is complete to enjoy the free food and other festivities waiting at the finish line. For some, that finish line not only marks the end of the race but also the symbolic end of another school year, a rigorous adventure unto itself.

The event began, when Hamilton women's soccer alumna Liz Roberts '06 mentioned to head coach Colette Gilligan that she had an idea for a campus-wide competition that she was willing to create. "She came up to the front of the bus and said, 'Hey, I have this idea," says Gilligan who was traveling with Roberts and the rest of the team to a match. Gilligan ultimately became the organizer for HamTrek during its first three years.

"I said, 'Well, you need to talk to Dave Thompson,' who was at that time the athletic director. Roberts generated some campus support and brought the idea to Dave who approved it. The other students who helped Roberts were women's lacrosse player Britten Chase '05, a couple swimmers and some students involved with the cycling club. They were all friends," Gilligan recalled. "They came up with the route and everything."

Thompson, who is currently the director of the Blood Fitness Center, has been organizing the event for the last two years. He handles officials, prizes and essentially everything HamTrek, including a long list of registrants. "We've got about 100 registrants so far and are on track for our average – about 150 or so per year," says Thompson. "Official registration ended on Tuesday, May 6, but we will do some last minute registrations if needed."

Worried about the competition? Don't be. "All levels compete. We have strong, experienced people and novices," says Thompson.

The number of participants is almost surely affected by the event's concurrence with Class & Charter Day which includes the College's annual awards convocation during which student and faculty excellence is recognized.

"It's a nice gathering of the community on the last day of classes where people get to be together outside," says Katie Naughton '08, who will compete in HamTrek this year. She began competing as a first-year student. "I sort of regret that it's the last day of classes, but I understand the reason that it's placed there. I think it's a good, non-alcoholic, alternative celebration of the end of classes and the arrival of the nice weather." Hamtrek is preceded by both the awards convocation and all-campus picnic.

Naughton is one of many, including Hamilton faculty and staff, who have great feelings for HamTrek. Onno Oerlemans, the College's Director of the Environmental Studies Program and aassociate professor of English, has competed in the event every year and plans to do so again this time around.

"I'm really thrilled by the event," says Oerlemans. "I've done several triathlons – HamTrek was my very first – and HamTrek is great because it's challenging (particularly the running portion) but not overly stressful. The swim in the pool is very low-stress compared to most triathlons, and the bike course is well-policed and safe.

"Another great aspect of the event is that students, faculty and staff participate together and compete against one another. I think the fact that Hamilton now has a very well-organized triathlon really adds to the school's character, and I'm happy to have been a part of it."

Grace Dobbyn '08, who will also compete this year, couldn't agree more. "I think HamTrek's greatest strength is the way that the whole campus gets involved. Spectators line around the track to cheer on the competitors. All of the competitors cheer each other on too.

"I first competed in HamTrek my junior year. I was a spectator my first two years and decided that I wanted to give it a shot. "I've loved being on the Hill and HamTrek has added to my Hamilton experience. I probably would have never considered doing a triathlon anywhere else, but Hamilton makes it such a fun experience." 

-- by Robert Healy III
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