PENN RUN — He assumed he had built a sizeable lead during the bike race, but Don Gibbon didn’t take any chances during the final seconds of the 18th annual Jackie Kallal Triathlon on Saturday at Yellow Creek State Park.
Despite having nearly a two-minute advantage on the eventual second-place finisher, the 49-year-old Indiana native sprinted furiously through the finish line to capture his first career win in what was his 16th appearance in the race.
A longtime friend of Kallal who competed in the inaugural Yellow Creek Triathlon in 1996, Gibbon posted event-best times in two of the race’s three phases, the half-mile swim and the 9.5-mile bike race, to card an overall time of 1 hour, 9 minutes and 6 seconds. He also notched the fifth-fastest time in the 3.5-mile run to finish 1:44 ahead of second-place finisher John Wilcock and 6:41 ahead of third-place finisher Dan Antonacci.
In her first triathlon, 23-year-old Monroeville native Katherine Kromka came from behind in the 3.5-mile run to win the women’s race in impressive fashion with a time of 1:16.32.
Kromka made up 1:18 in the 5K to best Hully Hoover, who placed second in the women’s race for the third straight year, by 53 seconds.
Ohio native John Lowrey won the race in 2012 and 2013 with times of 58:41 and 1:01.43, respectively. Lowrey didn’t compete this year.
All proceeds of the event benefit Habitat for Humanity of Indiana County.
“I never know where I am or how much he (Wilcock) pushed on that last mile, so every second counts when you’re in that last wave,” Gibbon said. “If I took it easy for a second or two, he could have beaten me by a second or two, so whatever you have left at the end you’ve got to give it.”
Gibbon, a former emergency room physician at Indiana Regional Medical Center who now works in the insurance industy, emerged from the brisk Yellow Creek water 1:22 ahead of Wilcock and nearly four minutes in front of Antonacci.
In what he considers his strongest suit, the 200-pound Gibbon widened his lead on the bike race, finishing the ride in 28:08 to gain 41 seconds on Wilcock and 13 seconds on Antonacci.
Gibbon didn’t let up on his feet, however, and finished the 5K in 23:07 to cap his first win.
In Gibbon’s first 15 appearances in the event, his best showing was a second-place finish.
“It feels great,” Gibbon said. “This was my first triathlon in 1996, and since then, I’ve been working my way through the states competing. Every year I come back here with the same goal in mind: I always want to win but wherever I fall, I fall. As I get older I’m always trying to beat the younger guys coming in.
“I was hoping to get it next year when I hit 50, but I’ll take it at 49.”
Antonacci, a former Penns Manor High School baseball coach, left in the same heat as Gibbon and said he lost the Indiana physician early in the bike race.
“He passed me on the bike ride about two miles in,” Antonacci, 38, said. “I saw him until the top of the hill and then he was gone. I couldn’t catch him or the gentleman who placed second, but it was good. Those guys are competitors and I was pushing hard to try to catch them.”
Wilcock, 42, a State College resident who hails from England, started the race in the heat before Gibbon, but still had a sense that he was trailing him during the bike race.
“I raced against Don before and I knew he was a good athlete, and when I saw him on the bike, I knew roughly what the gap was and what work I had to do,” Wilcock said. “When I saw him at the turn I could tell he had the gap on me, so at that point, I just wanted to stay ahead of whoever was behind me.”
In the women’s race, Kromka emerged from the water two seconds behind the 43-year-old Hoover, who finished the swim before any other female with a mark of 17:41.
Despite popping her chain at the turnaround, a mistake that cost her roughly 45 seconds, Hoover gained another 1:16 on Kromka during the bike race, tallying a female-best time of 31:59.
But just when it seemed that Hoover would get over her second-place threshold, Kromka hit her stride during the 5K to steal the show.
Kromka finished the run with a female-best time of 23:24 to make up 1:18 on Hoover and win the women’s race by 53 seconds.
“I felt pretty comfortable in the water, but this was my first bike race, and that definitely wasn’t my strongest area,” Kromka said. “I ran the Gettysburg Marathon last year, so I kind of had a better feel for the run. It felt good to bring it all together.”
A Hollidaysburg resident, Hoover realized that her chain popping potentially spoiled her chance for a win, but she still expressed satisfaction over her performance.
“Hey, that’s the nature of the race, and the girl who got first place definitely deserved it,” Hoover said. “I’m happy for her and I’m happy for myself. Heck, she’s (Kromka) 20-something years younger than me, so I’m very pleased. I just love to do triathlons, and it would have been nice to win, but that just gives me a goal for next year.”