Storm halts SuperAthalon race

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CAPE MAY – Past race history has shown that the early leader of the Cape May SuperAthalon almost never wins.

But on Tuesday, it would have been impossible for him to lose.

Stone Harbor’s Gregg Donnelly was declared the champion of the event after the first leg of the run-row-swim race when race officials suspended the race at the end of the 2.2-mile run due to stormy weather conditions that saw lightning flash in the southern sky. The ensuing 1 ½-mile row and quarter-mile swim were not held.

2014 Cape May SuperAthalon With storm clouds on the horizon, athletes begin the Cape May SuperAthalon It proved to be a sound decision, as the skies opened with heavy rains only seconds after the final athlete finished the run, followed by numerous rounds of violent thunder and rapid lightning.

“I feel bad for the athletes but we didn’t have any other choice but to end the race,” Cape May Beach Patrol chief Harry “Buzz” Mogck said.

With storms in the forecast, Mogck was asked about the decision to begin the race in the first place. The competition was set for a 6 p.m. start, but was begun a few minutes early in hopes of beating the approaching storm.

“We were looking at radar all day, and everything we were seeing was showing that we weren’t going to get anything until at least 7 (p.m.),” Mogck explained. “We’ve never been interrupted before like this. With all the other races coming up, the schedule’s tight. If we get into next week, then the tides aren’t right for the row. We felt we had to try to get it in.

“We were hoping we were just going to get rain. We’ve held it in wind and rain before but obviously once there’s thunder and lightning you really have no choice. This is the worst weather we’ve ever had for this.”

Donnelly, 23, a former standout cross country runner at Christian Brothers Academy in Central Jersey and a current graduate student at Temple University after earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, blazed to the front of the race almost immediately. He held about a one-city-block lead for a good portion of the run. His official time was 12 minutes, 13 seconds.

“Being right here talking about winning after doing a third of it is kind of a buzz kill,” Donnelly said. “But I did the best with what I could do with the one leg.

“The run’s my best event. I heard (race officials) whispering on the (pace) truck that they were going to probably end it even though I don’t think they wanted me to hear it but I did. And then I heard my guys tell me, too, when I got close to the turn (for the beach), so I looked back (to see where the competition was) and I just hammered it to the end.”

Wildwood’s Ryan Meyer, competing for the 10th time in the event with a numerous top-five finishes, made up a few paces on Donnelly over the final 150 yards of the run and was second in 12:17.

“Frustrating is the first thing that comes to mind,” Meyer said of the race’s suspension. “But I completely understand the decision. It was the right call to make.”

Shane McGrath of Avalon was 12th out of 14 competitors after the run. But the four-time SuperAthalon champion’s best events are the row and swim and he never got the chance to showcase his talents in those areas.

“I thought if the weather held out until after the race and we got it in it would have been better for me,” McGrath said. “My run was terrible. I needed to be up closer to the pack. But it was nice water for a guy like me. I felt I could have caught people in the row and then maybe do well in the swim and have a good finish.”

In hindsight, the storm hit the Cape May area at the right time. Had the storm approached, say, 10 minutes later, the competitors would have been exposed in open ocean water during the row.

“That would have been terrifying,” Meyer said. “I couldn’t imagine it.”

Meyer said most of the competitors realized early that the race was going to be suspended even though they weren’t officially informed until the end of the run.

“In the pre-race meeting they told us that nothing was going above safety, that if there was a lightning bolt at any point they were going to call it, and that (finishes) would be determined by where you were at the time they call it,” he said. “A lot of us were running in a pack and we started to notice that a lot of the guys (who tend to the boats) were up on the street cheering the guys on so that’s when we all kind of knew. I tried to kick in gear. I think we all knew, but it would have been disrespectful to walk out on it. We all went hard to the finish (of the run).

“I’m a little bummed it couldn’t have been postponed or rescheduled, but that’s not a knock on the Cape May Beach Patrol. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why they felt they needed to try to get this in. To have it ended, it’s all about safety. I think we all understand that.”

Cape May’s Bill Rose (12:38), Longport’s Tim Schwegman (12:40) and Sea Isle City’s Michael Vallen (12:42) rounded out the top five.

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