The reigning champion won’t be in the running.
Suzanne King, whose five victories in the U.S. Bank Pole Pedal Paddle include titles in each of the last four years, is not among the women’s elite competitors expected for Saturday’s race.
Only four women — all from Bend — will compete in the elite women’s category in this year’s Pole Pedal Paddle, which includes alpine skiing, nordic skiing, biking, running, paddling and sprinting on a course of about 30 miles from Mount Bachelor to the finish at Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater.
King has decided to put her energies into nonprofit work with an organization known as Grandmothers’ Education Fund Africa (GEFA), which helps fund education for poor Kenyan children. She also fills her busy schedule with grad-school classes and teaching Spanish at High Desert Middle School in Bend.
Sarah Max, runner-up to King each of the past two years, will vie for the PPP title again this year. She says she wishes King was going to be racing for the “friendly rivalry” they developed over the years.
“I’m kind of disappointed. It doesn’t feel like the PPP without Suzanne,” notes Max. “I’m actually kind of bummed out that I’m missing the camaraderie of it.”
Max, 33, will be competing Saturday in her fifth PPP as an individual. Each year since 2003, her time has improved incrementally, dropping nearly 15 minutes in both the 2004 and 2005 races. Last year, Max was a relatively close second, finishing in 2 hours and 26 seconds to King’s 1:57:03.
Max is a member of XC Oregon, a Bend-based elite cross-country ski team. She said she believes her best legs of the race are at the beginning — the downhill and cross-country ski stages, and the bike leg.
“My strategy will be to try to go harder at the beginning because that’s where I’m stronger,” says Max. “I kind of have to front-load.”
Another entry in Saturday’s elite women category, Amy Petersen-Bond, competed in the PPP as an individual in 2004 and 2005. She was the third-place female finisher in the 2005 race, finishing in 2:11.50.
“I’ve taken a hiatus the past two years, as my level of competitiveness and desire to collect all of the gear — not to mention train — ebbs and flows,” says Petersen-Bond, who was planning for her wedding that was a few weeks after race day last year. “I figured I’d have a good shot at placing higher this year without many of the major PPP competitors entering this year’s race. But I’m also the oldest competitor at 39, too.”
Petersen-Bond says she decided to enter the elite category at the last minute this year with little preparation.
“Sometimes it works out for women to do it and sometimes you are having babies,” she chuckled, offering possible explanations for the low number of entries in this year’s elite women’s division.
Pam Bradbury is competing for the first time ever in the PPP.
“I’ve wanted to do it for four years,” she says. “I’ve done some triathlons and I’ve done a lot of other multisport things, but nothing like this, and it just has never worked out. So here I am. I’m really excited.”
The 28-year-old has had some major life changes in recent years, giving birth to her daughter Reese last April.
“It will be an interesting day,” she adds.
Taylor Leach, also a member of XC Oregon, is the youngest competitor in the elite women’s class at age 23. This will be Leach’s first year racing as an individual in the PPP.
She raced as part of a pair in 2007, finishing first in the women’s pairs 18-24 age category in 2:07:30.
Leach excels in nordic skiing and cycling.
“I have been (cross-country ski) racing since age 6 and raced on the Middlebury College (Vermont) team,” says Leach. “I definitely do my fair share of cycling and, to a lesser extent, running.”
When asked if she thinks she has a shot at winning, the humble Leach responds: “I don’t know, I’ve heard from a lot of people that you can’t really win your first year. I’m just trying to finish — do the best I can and go from there.
“It’s definitely an undertaking,” she adds. “I’m little bit nervous, but I’m excited.”
Let the countdown begin for the 2008 Pole Pedal Paddle. Who’s it going to be? A seasoned racer? A young, newbie challenger?
Only their times will tell.