• Patti Sponsler

PineappleMan: In the Beginning...

Updated: Aug 8



Along with everything else, even triathlon is still recovering from pandemic restrictions. With a limited race in 2020 (Dec.) and no race in 2021, the Rotary Pineapple Man triathlon returned on June 5 to Ryckman Park in Melbourne Beach. Both the race distances and participant roster were slimmed down from the event’s glory days. Less than 200 athletes crossed the finish line after swimming ¼-mile, cycling 12-miles and running 3.1 miles.


Race Director Chris Moling, of DRC Sports, went with the shortened course to ensure that athlete safety was paramount.


“We always breathe a sigh of relief when the last bike is off the course,” he said. “We wanted to get athletes off of A1A earlier to beat the traffic.”


Both Covid and a late marketing campaign contributed to the limited field.


“Some people aren’t ready to come back to race in crowds and others just haven’t gotten back into race shape,” he said.


Moling is hopeful about the future of the sport and Pineapple Man, as well. “It was good to see there were probably about 10-15% of the participants who were new to the sport."


Moling, along with many others in the athletic community, believe that the triathlon will once again burgeon in Brevard and the challenge, excitement and fun of the sport will once again cause race directors to provide waiting lists for sold out events.


In hopes that it will provide some history and context for those who are newer to the sport, we’ve included a story we wrote prior to the race’s silver anniversary in 2010. Also included are tips for each section of the race provided by some of the area's 2010 best athletes.


PINEAPPLE MAN: THE SILVER ANNIVERSARY

What: 25th annual Melbourne Beach Rotary Pineapple Man Triathlon.

Benefits: Multiple national and community initiatives including the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Melbourne Beach town history projects, Friends of the Melbourne Beach Library, the South Brevard Sharing Center, The M.O.R.G.A.N. Project and Polio-Plus, a world-wide initiative to eradicate polio.

When: 7 a.m. Sunday, June 6.

Where: Ryckman Park, Melbourne Beach.

Distance: .3-mile swim; 15-mile bike; 3.3-mile run.

Best spectator spots: Transition area at intersection of Ocean Avenue and Riverside Drive; Finish line on Ocean Avenue in front of Ryckman House.

Course records for past decade: Male, 2008, John Reback, 38, Jupiter, 1:03:36; Female, 2007, Lotte Branigan, 33, Vero Beach, 1:10:38; Male Master (40+): 2009, Joel Kinnunen, 43, Melbourne, 1:07:51; Female Master, 2006, Pam Maxwell, 41, Melbourne, 1:15:16.

Athlete with most wins: Lotte Branigan, nine-time overall female champion.

Packet pick-up: June 3-4, Running Zone, Melbourne, 10 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.; June 5, Melbourne Beach Community Center, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Amenities: Full post-race breakfast and pizza from BeachStreet Eatery; shade tent and chairs at the awards area; finish line bleachers; commemorative race shirts; commemorative race swag bags; long-sleeve DriTec shirts for participants; entertainment; post-race refreshments from Florida Beer Company and post-race photos from Matt Winer Photography.

Additional information and course maps: www.rotarypineappleman.org


PINEAPPLE MAN: IN THE BEGINNING…

After NBC broadcast the historic footage of Julie Moss’s crawl toward the finish line of the 1982 Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, athletes everywhere began to look for events where they, too, might test their mettle against a race requiring triple-sport proficiency.


On May 3, 1986, the Melbourne Beach Rotarians answered the call with a race of their own - the Pineapple Man Triathlon. As organizers and spectators watched 67 new multi-sport athletes cross the finish line, no one imagined that the Pineapple Man would be one of the events that would launch and feed central Florida’s now burgeoning triathlon community.


“We had no idea that the sport would get so big,” said Byron Beard, the former Melbourne Beach resident who implemented the original Pineapple Man and then continued to direct the event until moving to Colorado in 2000.


Beard’s initial interest in the sport became a passion after completing his first triathlon, a small, now defunct Rockledge race.


“I registered on a whim,” said the 57-year-old semi-retired dentist who speaks with a slow drawl but is quick to laugh at himself. “During the race, I rode into T2, hit the brakes and did an endo into the bike rack. I was so embarrassed that I just got up and started running.”

“I became totally hooked and then thought putting on our own race would be a great way for the Melbourne Beach Rotary to raise funds.”


Because pineapples had been the preferred crop of choice of the founding fathers in Melbourne Beach, Beard and his Rotarian band of brothers honored their local history, coining the name “Pineapple Man” for their triathlon.


The original race, first held in conjunction with Melbourne Beach Founders’ Day, offered a 1/3-mile swim, 3-mile run and 10-mile bike - in that order. The logistics of those first events now seem archaic.


“We built bike racks out of two-by-fours,” said Beard of the crude stands set up in the original transition area that was the parking lot of Beard’s former office on the corner of Riverside Drive and Ocean Avenue.


With the invention of GPS still years away, organizers relied on a rope and good weather to set the buoys for the out-and-back swim course that began on the south side of the Melbourne Beach pier.


“My kids would get up at 5 a.m. to help me lay out the course,” Beard said. “We used a boat and a 1/6-mile length of rope to put down the buoys. That got tough on windy mornings and we sometimes just had to guesstimate.”


Instead of chip timing to score the athletes, volunteers used hand-held timers to record each finish and then matched the times with the finish cards athletes were handed as they crossed the line. Final race results were produced on a typewriter and mailed to participants.


Perhaps the most novel element, however, was the method used to keep people honest on the bike.


“We had to carry a numbered tongue depressor and drop it in a bucket at the south turn-a-round to verify we had gone that far,” said 58-year-old Melbourne Beach neurologist, Tom Hoffman, who took third overall at the inaugural race and has competed just about every year since, taking the Masters (40+) twice and placing in his age group multiple times.


This year, when Hoffman - with timing chip attached - lines up in his wave on the north side of the pier, he’ll be joined by Beard, who was invited back by current race director, Don Riordan, to celebrate the event’s silver anniversary.


“Time flies - I didn’t realize 25 years had gone by already,” said Beard, who has been getting “teary-eyed” while pondering past Pineapple Man memories. “I am really looking forward to coming back. It’s going to be fun for sure.”


PINEAPPLEMAN: FROM START TO FINISH

With 650 entrants already registered - and scores more left cooling their heels on a waiting list - the sold-out June 6 Pineapple Man is the largest field in the 25-year history of the event. To help those who are new to triathlon or the Pineapple experience, race director Don Riordan and four local athletes provide some advantageous insight.


Pam Maxwell climbs out of the water after warming up for the 2013 Pineappleman Triathlon.

Swim .3 Mile

Entering the murky depths is often the most intimidating portion of a triathlon and Melbourne’s Pam Maxwell, a previous female Pineapple Man champ - both overall and the Masters (40+) holder - helps alleviate some concerns.

“I think swimming in open water can seem overwhelming, especially for beginners,” said the 14-year tri veteran and who qualified for and competed in the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships in 2005. “The key thing is to relax. You can float on your back or change strokes and regroup if you need to. You can also stop and stand up if it is shallow. It is something you can do and not get disqualified.”


USA Triathlon, the sport’s national governing body, also allows athletes to rest by holding on to buoys, boats and ropes without penalty as long as they are not used to help with forward propulsion.


Maxwell noted that a smoother swim may be as simple as seeding yourself properly in your starting wave.


“If you’re a slower swimmer or don’t feel comfortable, start in the back of the wave or on the outside of the pack,” she said. “If you’re on the outside, you may swim a little farther but you can get away much easier than in the middle of the pack.”


“The swim is the shortest part of the race,” said the 45-year-old pharmaceutical rep and former collegiate swimmer. “Most people are better cyclists or runners and you can make up so much more time on those two events. I have never won a triathlon by being a good swimmer.”


Riordan explains the logistics of the counter-clockwise swim in the Indian River lagoon that will take place under the watchful eyes of the Melbourne Beach Fire Department and Brevard County Lifeguards.


“Athletes will start by waves in the water on the north side of the pier and then swim northwest to and around the first buoy,” said the now four-time Pineapple Man race director and retired corporate CFO. “From there they will swim south to and around the second buoy and then northeast to the south side of the pier. There will be two sets of steps - provided by Space Coast Triathletes - as well as ladders to come back up on.”


Once out of the water, athletes will run up the length of the pier and into the transition area located in Ryckman Park.


For those who are squeamish about stepping barefoot into the river or running on the pier’s rough boards, a pair of aqua socks, which are USA Triathlon legal, may provide some protection but it is always best to try them before race day. Fins, gloves and paddles, however, are not allowed.


Where is she now? Maxwell moved to Boulder, CO where she still kicks butt in all three sports, individually or any combination.

Tom Hoffman on his way out of T1 during the 2008 Pineappleman Triathlon.

Bike 15 miles

“The bike course is typical for Florida; flat and not very technical (few turns, no hills),” said Tom Hoffman, who is president of Space Coast Velo Sport and took third overall at the inaugural race as well as taking the Masters (40+) victory twice and placing in his age group numerous times. “There is not much traffic on Sunday mornings and the course is well-patrolled with police at the turn-around. The only challenge is sometimes the wind.”

Hoffman offers some cadence tips to ease transition from the swim to the bike and then into the run.


“I start off in a lower gear for the first ½- to one-mile until I get through the neighborhood and warmed up,” he said. “I’ll go into a lower gear again on the return on Pine Street to spin a bit before the run.”


While Hoffman made jokes about hammering the rest of the ride hard enough to puke, the 58-year-old neurologist turned seriously adamant that athletes keep from becoming dehydrated.


“Most importantly, don’t forget to drink on the bike,” he said. “Otherwise you can get into serious trouble on the run. It’s hot out there.”


Hoffman also recommends that athletes become cognizant of USA Triathlon rules to avoid penalties or disqualification. It is mandatory that helmets be worn and stay buckled until off the bike. And unless they can pass the person in front of them within 15 seconds, riders are to keep at least three bike lengths (about 23 feet) between them or suffer at least a two-minute penalty for drafting. (A complete list of USA Triathlon rules are available at https://www.teamusa.org/usa-triathlon/about/multisport/competitive-rules


Where is he now? Hoffman, now retired, still lives in Melbourne Beach and competes in national level Master's Swimming.

Kaitlin Shiver Donner talking with the local press after taking the overall female win and third OA at the 2010 Pineappleman Triathlon.

Run 3.3 miles

The flat 3.3-mile course will loop participants north along Riverside Drive and then through residential neighborhoods before finishing in front of the Ryckman House on Ocean Avenue.


“Stay positive, said Satellite Beach’s Kaitlin Shiver, the 2009 USA Triathlon National Champion who, along with her parents and two sisters, will be racing June 6. “As soon as you let the negative in, everything can fall flat.”


The rising senior who runs track and cross-country for the Florida Gators also advises patience, especially as you come off the bike.


“Know that for the first three to seven minutes after you get off the bike that your legs are going to feel like Jello,” said Shiver, who will be racing head-to-head with nine-time Pineapple female champion, Vero Beaches Lotte Brannigan. “You will get your running legs back.”


Shiver also recommends shifting the focus of your thoughts.


“A lot of times I try to zone out and think about the person who is in front of me,” she said. I’ll focus on their back and try to stick or pass them.”


Where is she now? Shiver Donner raced triathlons professionally and globally - including Olympic Trials - for Team USA. She is now married to Ed Donner, mother to Chris and expecting a second child perhaps today. Shiver Donner came back from her first pregnancy stamping new PRs on her running resume and also still on top of her tri game. She currently provides PT, strength groups and coaching through her business, New Wave Physical Therapy; is head coach for the Space Coast Runners 16-week Training Camp and recently launched the New Wave Triathlon Club. (And, FWIW, Shiver Donner broke Lottie Brannigan's PIneappleman course record in 2018, when she placed 3rd overall and first female in 1:08:14!)

Bernie Sher, long time marathon and triathlon coach receiving the finishers' medal at his first Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI.

Transition

There is more to racing a triathlon than a swim, bike and run. Races have been won and lost in the swim-to-bike transition, known as T1; and/or during the bike-to-run transition, known as T2.


“It always amazes me to see how much time some athletes lose in transition,” said Bernie Sher, a well-known local multi-sport coach who qualified four times for, raced three times and earned a podium spot in the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. “Most athletes would not start a race without training for the swim, bike and run. Transition is no different. You train to have the fastest transitions possible on race day.”


Sher offers the following tips for a speedy transition:


*Try nothing new on race day. No matter how enticing something looks the day before, do not wear it until you have tried it in training and know that it works for you.

*Before the race begins, take the time to walk from the swim finish to T1 and then from your bike to T2. Visualize where you will enter and exit. Also note where your bike is racked by counting the number of racks or noting a landmark next to your rack.

*Set up your stuff in the order you’ll use it. You should already know how from your practice sessions.

*Reconsider your need for socks and gloves - most people don’t need either for sprint events.

*Consider purchasing a race belt and sticking the number in your tri-shorts during the swim.

*Transition starts before you get into T1 or T2; think about the steps you are about to go through as you’re exiting the water and as you’re headed to T2 on your bike.

*Take off swim cap and goggles as you run up the pier.

*Make sure you have the correct gear selected for the start of the bike leg before racking your bike in transition.

*Some people find that using toe clips and riding in their running shoes is faster than changing shoes in short sprints.

*Use elastic laces or lace locks on running shoes for an easier on.

*If you’re not leaving your shoes clipped in but are putting them on in transition, don’t sit down to put them on, practice slipping them on standing up.

*If you want to leave your shoes clipped so you can slip right now, make sure you have practiced enough before the race so that it is second nature. Being sketchy can really slow down your race, or worse, mess up someone else’s.


Where is he now? Regrettably, Sher succumbed to a rare form of Prostate Cancer on Oct. 26, 2016.