ATHABASCA — Competitors from across Alberta and beyond gathered in Athabasca Sept. 9 for the fourth annual Kapawinihk triathlon, which saw 109 athletes bike, paddle, and run across various parts of Athabasca Landing.
“Kapawinihk is Cree for come ashore, and we thought that was totally appropriate and our way of showing our role in reconciliation and being thankful that we can host our race on not just Treaty 6 but Treaty 8 [land],” said Janene Kargus, co-founder and organizer of the event.
Participants had the option of competing solo or in teams, and could choose between the longer standard race or a reduced sprint length.
A wet but sunny morning marked the beginning of the race along the river front as bikers made their way to Muskeg Creek Trail for a ride through the park, and the next leg of the race started back at the river front, where competitors pushed kayaks, canoes and paddle boards into the Athabasca River — with the help of volunteers from Athabasca Lions club.
Athletes landed at River Meadows RV Park and laced up their shoes for the last leg of the event, which saw runners splash through a shallow section of the river before a last uphill sprint to reach the finish line.
The first runners trickled through around 12:30 p.m., and by 3 p.m. all participants crossed the finish line, greeted with cheers, high fives and hugs along with a locally-made wooden medal and a cold beer courtesy of Dog Island brewing in Slave Lake.
Alberta and beyond
Kargus said participants flooded in from all across Alberta and even further, with a couple travelling all the way from South Dakota to participate.
“We really did a strong approach on our social media platforms [this year] said Kargus. “We’ve seen a lot of people coming from outside of Athabasca — we’ve got Fort McMurray, South Dakota, Wabasca, south of Calgary, Lloyd, so it’s awesome to see that.”
Competitors Caroline Fallu and husband Matt Asher attended the event all the way from Sioux Falls, S.D. where they currently live in their RV.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” said Fallu, who heard about the event from friends of friends from the Athabasca area after a chance meet-up in St, Johns, Nfld. in 2022.
“The running was challenging,” noted Fallu, but said “the paddling was my favourite because it surprised me … I’ve never paddled for a set distance, so it was interesting, and I did better than I thought I would.”
Fallu said a return trip to next year’s race is already on her mind, noting how the level of commitment from volunteers and organizers made the race — and the swag — memorable.
Fun for everyone
All ages were welcome at the event, with some solo participants as young as 11, ranging up to 72 years young. “We are willing to cater [to all abilities] just to get you out here,” said Kargus, who co-founded the event with Heather Boucher with the intention to showcase the natural beauty of the region while also encouraging exercise at any ability level.
“This year we’re celebrating mother earth's element earth – every year is different…next year we celebrate mother earth’s element air, that’s our last mother earth element, said Kargus, highlighting the connection to the elements fostered through outdoor activity.
“That’s what you’re doing when you’re out here; you’re out on the bike trails, out on the water, you’re on running trails, so it just sort of fit.”
The first Kapawinihk triathlon took place in 2019 and saw 70 participants tackle the course. Kargus noted the event has grown every year since – with the exception of 2020 – with a good balance between familiar faces and first-timers.
“We’re so full of absolute gratitude to see not just local communities and the Town of Athabasca and everybody [who] supports us,” said Kargus after the event wrapped up, adding, “Heather and I, from day one have always said – because we always get asked why we do this – because we live here, and this is what you do for community.”