By JASON MAZDA Staff Writer |
Stephen Del Monte was on vacation last November in Naples, Fla., when he had an idea.
After successfully organizing the annual Tri/Run The Wildwoods triathlon for seven years, the 34-year-old Wildwood Crest native was ready to do more.
“Atlantic City doesn’t have anything,” he told his wife, Jamie, “and it’s right up the road.”
Two phone calls later, the Atlantic City International Triathlon was born.
The inaugural event, set to start at 7 a.m. Sunday, will feature more than 400 people competing in a 1-mile ocean swim from Albany Avenue to Mississippi Avenue, a 22-mile bicycle ride on the Atlantic City Expressway, and a 10-kilometer run on the Boardwalk, ending at Bally’s Atlantic City.
“The atmosphere up there, with all the big buildings, all the casinos and the skyline, you’re swimming in the Atlantic City ocean, you run on the famous Boardwalk up there, biking on the Expressway, I just think it’s going to be a totally different experience from all the other local sprints that we do,” said competitor Roger Lillo, a 38-year-old police officer from Wildwood who has raced everywhere from South Jersey to Miami to Las Vegas.
As race director, Del Monte has put hundreds of hours of preparation into the event, coordinating with the city’s Beach Patrol and police, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, and Boardwalk Hall officials, among others.
But it all started with one phone call that he wasn’t even sure would get him anywhere.
After the conversation with his wife, Del Monte called Ken Calemmo, a fellow member of the Advisory Board at Wildwood Catholic High School, from which Del Monte graduated in 1995. He asked Calemmo, who also serves on several Atlantic City committees, whom he should contact about having a race in Atlantic City.
Minutes later, Calemmo called back and referred him to Maureen Siman, vice president of marketing for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, who immediately helped start the process of getting permits for the city’s first triathlon. It turned out Siman was a triathlete herself.
“I’ll tell you, I got lucky with an opportunity,” Del Monte said. “I made one phone call, to Ken. He made one phone call. You have a triathlon.
“Generally, these things do not happen this way. … We said, ‘Hey, we think this is a great idea.’ They said, ‘Yes, it is. Let’s do it.’”
Competitor Susan Reich, of Ocean City, said she has entered numerous runs, swims, and biathlons in Atlantic City. But she never thought anyone would be able to get roads closed off for bikes.
“I was scared of the tunnel. I said, ‘What are they, crazy?’” said Reich, 53, who works in the information technology department at Harrah’s Resort. “But it sounds pretty cool. When you think about it, they’re going to have it blocked off.”
The bike portion will consist of two loops from the inside of Boardwalk Hall to Exit 4 of the Expressway, then back into Atlantic City, through the Atlantic City/Brigantine Connector and back to Boardwalk Hall. Competitors will ride on the shoulder, with the right lane closed as a buffer from traffic. The tunnel will be closed to all traffic.
After depositing their bikes back on the floor of the Hall, competitors will run on the Boardwalk to Ventnor. They will turn around at South Oakland Avenue, run back past the Hall to the Revel casino site, turn again at New Hampshire Avenue, and finally run to the finish at Bally’s.
“Once people use Boardwalk Hall and The Pier as their markers, riding their bikes on the Atlantic City Expressway, you have something that no other place in the country has,” Del Monte said. “There’s so much scenery. You’re not just running on a country road here. You’re running past history.
“We will make this into the event to do along the Jersey Shore.”
Competitors believe the event will succeed and grow over the next few years because Del Monte is a triathlete himself, even though he does not compete in the races he runs.
“He has a little better insight on all the little things than maybe someone who doesn’t really (compete in) triathlons would miss,” Lillo said.
Del Monte, a former baseball player at York College of Pennsylvania, got involved with triathlons when he worked as a lifeguard for the North Wildwood Beach Patrol in 1999.
He was immediately hooked and competed in events across the country. But in 2003, he had a bad experience at one race that made him think. “I said, ‘Before someone does this in my hometown and screws up, I want to do this,’” he said.
The Wildwood triathlon last month drew 539 entrants in its eighth year.
Reich said that in her experience as a competitor, the most important thing has been simply having enough volunteers.
For that, Del Monte has enlisted the help of several local organizations.
Nicole Troast, a den leader for the fourth-grade Webelos Cub Scouts in Northfield, will bring her 9-year-old son, Nikolas, and a few other scouts to work at a water table.
“We’re always looking for the chance to volunteer for anything,” Troast said. “I think they’re going to love it. One of the things we emphasize in scouting is exercise, and there’s no better way of seeing it.”
Del Monte plans for the Atlantic City Triathlon to still be around when those scouts get older. He expects it to become a staple alongside the Atlantic City Marathon, which will be held for the 53rd year Oct. 16.
“Atlantic City is the marquee city on the Jersey Shore,” Del Monte said. “Putting a triathlon in Atlantic City puts just another feather in the cap of the amenities and events that it offers. Atlantic City is home to the third-oldest marathon in the country, so it does have a history. And the triathlon’s here to stay.”