On May 31, Tommy Zaferes was close to death in a Texas hospital.
Three and a half months later in Kelowna, there stood the smiling 28-year-old from Santa Cruz, CA, atop the podium with a gold medal hanging from his neck.
Zaferes was alive and well on Sunday at the 32nd Pushor Mitchell Apple Triathlon, winning the men’s elite sprint event in 54 minutes 24 seconds.
The fact that Zaferes was even able to line up at the start on the weekend was reason enough for celebration.
After collapsing at the finish of the Pan American Championships this spring in Dallas, he spent the next five days in hospital.
Due to a combination of dehydration, heat stroke and a virus, Zaferes had suffered two seizures and barely survived the ordeal.
In his first competitive event since the near tragedy, Zaferes couldn’t have asked for a better result.
“I was in the ICU for 19 hours intubated and almost died, so coming here and winning this race is huge for me,” said an elated Zaferes, who earned his first career ITU win.
“I feel great and it’s incredible to be back, I’ve been training really well, so coming here and doing this race and feeling good the whole time, it’s incredible.”
A pair of Aussies seized the final two spots on the podium. Calvin Quirk, 17, earned the silver medal with a clocking of 55:00, while Daniel Coleman posted a bronze-medal time of 55:08.
The top Canadian was Victoria’s Andrew McCartney who placed fifth in 55:17. McCartney was in second spot following the biking leg, but ran out of gas on the run to miss out on the medals.
Canada’s Paula Findlay took a small, yet significant, step forward in her long rebuild to elite form by winning the silver medal at the Elite Sprint PATCO Premium Cup Race on Sunday.
Competing in her first race since being sidelined since with March with a stress fracture, the 25-year-old Edmontonian enjoyed a solid outing on the picturesque course to finish as the lone Canadian on the podium in second spot at 59 minutes 52 seconds.
“I’m just so happy to return to racing and be able to finish the race,” beamed the relentless redhead, who racked up five World Triathlon Series victories before a nagging hip injury led to a heartbreaking Olympic debut in 2012 and a series of injuries she has had to battle through both mentally and physically.
“I’m trying to work my way back up there. I know I have a lot of work to do. It just feels so good to be racing again. This (Kelowna) is my favourite place to race so I’m happy I was able to return here.”
Findlay led the field out of the second transition where she tested her run fitness for the first time. American Katie Hursey caught Findlay just one kilometre into the five-kilometre run and never looked back, charging to the gold medal step of the podium with a time of 59:36.
Erin Dolan, also of the United States, rounded out the women’s podium in third spot at 1:01:22. Victoria’s Alison Hooper was the next best Canadian in fifth spot with a time of 1:01:45.
For the second year in a row, Vernon’s Nathan Champness showed the way in the Olympic, winning in a time of 2:01:25.
Former Olympic runner Graham Hood was second in the 1.5 km, 40 km bike and 10 km run in 2:03:19.
Age group winners from Kelowna were: Gary Wade and Quinn Middleton.
In the women’s race, Calgary’s Sarah MacArthur was the winner in 2:13:25. The top Kelowna finisher was Biggi Weischedel who was 16th in 2:30:48.
The lone age group winner from Kelowna was Kim Jollymore.
In the men’s age group sprint, Boston’s Nick Karowski topped the 159-athlete field with a time of 1:01:22.
Kelowna’s Jake Van Allen was second at 1:01:47, while Calgary’s Jeremy Roles took third in 1:02:38 in the 750 km swim, 20 km bike and 5 km run.
Age group winners from Kelowna were Tim Purcer (55-59) and David Lloyd (65-69).
Brisbane, Australia’s Rhiannon Roberts won the women’s sprint in 1:10:00, Saskatoon’s Rachel Edwards was second (1:11:57) and Denise Uhrynuk of Nelson was third (1:13:22).
Kelty Slaney, who won the 18-19 age division, was the first Kelowna racer to finishing seventh among women in 1:14:56. Pam Nonis of Kelowna was 11th in 1:16:36.
Local age group winners included Jeanette Hoft (50-54) in 1:20:08 and Judy Lloyd (65-69) with a time of 1:36:38.
Pennock, Klus junior champs…
Calgary’s Russell Pennock capped off a perfect season on the National Junior Series with his fourth straight win at the Apple Triathlon on Saturday, while Samantha Klus won her first title of the year in the women’s race in Kelowna.
The 17-year-old Pennock, who rattled off three straight victories including the national championship title earlier this summer, raced to victory with a time of 55:30.
“That was my last National Junior Series race so I wanted to make it a fun one and I did,” said Pennock, whose sister Ellen was cheering on the sidelines fresh off competing for Canada at the Commonwealth Games.
Pennock will now head to Edmonton to represent Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Ottawa’s Samantha Klus also capped off her junior triathlon career with a victory. A third-place finisher at nationals, Klus moved up two spots into fifth following a strong transition from the swim onto the bike course where she eventually led the top juniors in the country into second transition. Battling stride-for-stride with Manitoba’s Kyla Roy, Klus finished on top when the dust finally settled at the finish, clocking a time of 1:03:56.
Kids of Steel…
Medalists from Kelowna and area in Saturday’s Kids of Steel events were Sarah Courtenay (F8-9, silver), Ella Rolleston (F10-11, silver), Lincoln Hoel (M10-11, silver), Owen Harris (M14-15, silver), Jamie Lee Hellard (F14-15, silver), and Austin Galbus-MacLeod (M16-19, bronze).
More than 1,200 athletes took part in the weekend’s events.
For complete results from the Apple Triathlon, visit sportstats.ca