Area Marine Scientist Finishes 5th In Smoky Mountains Triathlon

The Middle-Atlantic Paddlers Association, sparked by Gloucester County’s Lyle Varnell, dominated the competition at the nation’s oldest triathlon in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina recently.

Varnell, a 32-year-old marine scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at Gloucester Point, finished fifth in the prestigious Nantahala Outdoorsman Triathlon.

“It was quite an experience for me,” said Varnell. “In the past, I never seemed to have the time to compete in this particular event. It seems that every time it was scheduled, I was busy doing other things.

“But, things turned out differently this year, and I had a chance to go. I was extremely pleased with my overall effort. I was only some 40 or so seconds off the first-place finish by Bruce Hartzler.”

Hartzler, also a member of the Middle-Atlantic Paddlers Association, is a four-time winner of the triathlon. He was an alternate on the 1988 U.S. Olympic canoe team.

Varnell and other participants had to compete in a 1-mile swim, a little better than a 4-mile run, and an 8-mile canoe ride.

The 1983 East Tennessee State graduate, who lived in Norfolk from 1983 until he moved to Gloucester County two years ago, finished with a combined time of 2 hours, 19 minutes and 51 seconds.

Varnell was timed in 24:27 for the swim, 30:02 for the run and 1:25:22 for the canoe ride.

“I was extremely pleased with my swim, but I believe I could’ve done a whole lot better in this area had I had time to really work at it,” said Varnell. “The triathlon competition was a bit new to me, although I have paddled for some time.”

The 8-mile canoe ride came through both white and flat waters.

“I didn’t read the white waters too well,” Varnell said. “There were slow and fast waters, and I believe I could read those points a whole lot better, and finish with a better time.

“But now I have a feel of what one can expect at one of these events. I plan to come back again and compete in this triathlon.”

Of the Top 10 finishers in the men’s section of the triathlon, six were MAPA members, including Hartzler of Washington, D.C., who won with a combined time of 2:10:04.

In second place was teammate Keith Havens of Albion, Maine, in 2:12:07. Third place went to Chris Behling of Albion, Maine, in 2:19:11.

The next four places went to MAPA members: Dodge Havens of Richmond (2:19:05); Varnell fifth; Jim Farrington of Portsmouth (2:20:04), and Kirk Havens of Hampton and a marine scientist at VIMS (2:24:26). The Havens are all brothers.

Kirk Havens, who is building a home in King & Queen, finished with a 26:47 for the swim, a 32:22 for the run and a 1:25:17 for the canoe.

In the women’s competition, teammate Linda Lundquist of Eastover, S.C., finished first in 3:04:54.

Varnell began his paddle competition in 1985. “Our group paddles in just about every waterway in the Tidewater area,” said Varnell, who along with his teammates plan to compete in the Tour de Tidewater paddle event Nov. 7-8.

“The competition will take place in the Hague in Norfolk and the Intercoastal Waterway on that Saturday, then move to the Dismal Swamp canal on Sunday.”

Daily Press