Nathan Smith pushes Drew VerHoeven across the finish line at the TRI Allegan triathlon. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)

Fifth-annual TRI Allegan sprint triathlon provides memorable moments

Jason Wesseldyk

It’s been said records are made to be broken.
Such was the case at this year’s running of the TRI Allegan sprint triathlon at Littlejohn Lake County Park on Tuesday, July 21.
Grand Rapids’ Jimi Minnema finished the race—which consists of a 500-meter swim, 14-mile bike and 5K run—in a time of 57 minutes, 50 seconds to set a new record.
“The race went very well,” co-race director Ron Johnston said. “We had fantastic weather, there were no accidents or injuries and a new course record was set, which was definitely one of the highlights.”
Another highlight came courtesy of Allegan First Baptist Church pastor Nathan Smith and one of his congregants, 14-year-old Drew VerHoeven.
The pair competed as this year’s lone chariot competitors. Smith pulled VerHoeven on an inflatable raft during the swim portion, pulled him in a cart behind his bike and pushed him in a stroller during the run.
VerHoeven is living with muscular dystrophy and is unable to participate in such activities by himself.
Neither Smith nor Ver­Hoeven could have been happier with how the event went.
“It was great,” VerHoeven said. “I had a lot of fun.”
“I really enjoyed this experience,” Smith said. “The main thing is we didn’t get stuck on the lake and we didn’t crash during the bike or run, so in my mind we won.”
While he had a good time throughout the event, Ver­Hoeven said one of the three portions of the race was particularly fun for him.
“I really liked the swimming,” he said. “It wasn’t bumpy at all. It was nice and smooth.”
VerHoeven wanted to be involved in the race as much as possible. So rather than having Smith carry him from Littlejohn Lake up to the staging area for the bikes, VerHoeven rode up the path in his wheelchair.
From there it was on to the bike.
“We couldn’t really talk a whole lot during the biking portion because I had to focus on what I was doing,” Smith said. “But I did hear a lot of, ‘Faster, faster,’ from behind me.”
When the pair crossed the finish line at the end of the run, there was no shortage of well-wishers who came up to them with words of encouragement.
“The support and love we felt from everyone was amazing,” Smith said. “To see so many people out there cheering for Drew was fantastic. The race directors and all the volunteers did a great job and I can’t thank them enough for allowing us to do this.”
Smith and VerHoeven finished with a time of 1:32:59, including an 11:24 in the swim, a 49:09 in the bike and a 25:22 in the run.
That was good for 112th place.
Not that VerHoeven’s mother Becky VerHoeven cared about those numbers.
“This was just a special experience for Drew and I’m so thankful our pastor was willing to do this with him,” she said. “It was a thrill to see Drew out there and the look of pure joy on his face when they finished is something I’ll never forget.”

For full story, pick up a copy of the July 30 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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