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Triathlete visits Powell as part of 50-state journey

Richard Avoletta stands outside the Powell Aquatic Center on May 27 after completing the PAC triathlon in 1:36.54 and marking off state No. 14 in his goal of finishing triathlons in all 50 states. Richard Avoletta stands outside the Powell Aquatic Center on May 27 after completing the PAC triathlon in 1:36.54 and marking off state No. 14 in his goal of finishing triathlons in all 50 states. Photo courtesy Karen Avoletta

Richard Avoletta didn’t start competing in triathlons until the age of 50, when he set a goal of competing in one triathlon in all 50 states.

Avolette has spent the last seven years traveling the country to accomplish his goal. In late May, Avoletta traveled 17 hours from Quincy, Illinois, to Powell to compete in the Powell Aquatic Center Triathlon and mark state No. 14 off his list.

Avoletta, a retired police officer, got into running triathlons after a work-related injury. For the State of Illinois, Avoletta worked for seven years with mentally and disabled adults and then 24 years with the state police for a combined total of 31 years of service.

“Unfortunately, I tried to wrestle a drunk driver one night and he attacked me,” Avoletta said. He ruptured four discs in his back — two in neck area and two in his lower back — and underwent three surgeries.

“I try to keep myself in good shape and, you know, it was very discouraging, but my goal was to do a half marathon,” Avoletta said. “I was a runner — like, I ran a lot — so my goal was to do a half marathon in every one of the 50 states.”

Avolette competed in Illinois and Missouri, but “my back couldn’t take it anymore, so my doctor was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try swimming or riding a bike?’”

However when Avoletta tried the swimming, he discovered that “swimming is hard, it’s very very hard, and it’s very very boring — I mean, for a guy that’s used to going.”

Spending the whole workout/competition in just one location, a pool, didn’t keep Avoletta’s attention.

Then, with a borrowed bike from a friend, Avoletta tried a triathlon in his hometown.

“I tried it and [was] hooked — loved it,” Avoletta said. “It’s really good cross training, it’s really really good for you and it forces you to eat right too.”

Avoletta was told he needed to keep himself in shape and weight off his back, as another injury would require fusing bones and losing a lot of mobility.

“I’ve always loved exercising anyway,” said Avoletta of the doctor’s instructions on staying fit.

Avoletta said the injury changed his outlook on how he did his job, but not necessarily his view of life.

“I’ve always been an optimistic person, always tried to look at the best in people,” Avoletta said. “I know there’s bad people out there — there’s bad people in every walk of life — so no, it didn’t really change my outlook on life.”

Avoletta said that the injury did increase his faith, because “I could see how God brought me through that and really helped me — you know, with friends helping you and people taking care of you.”

To get through and over his injury, the love and support from family and friends was tremendous.

Avoletta feels the injury did change his outlook in that he appreciates people who fight through injuries.

“It inspires you to encourage other people more — to be very thankful that like I’m even able to participate,” Avoletta said. “That’s how I see it now.

“Before I was like, ‘I got to win this race.’ Now I’m like, ‘Thank you, Lord that I’m able to even do this, something that I really enjoy doing and that’s exercising,’” he said. “That’s how it changed my life — made me appreciative of even being able to be involved.”

This new outlook is also why Avoletta likes coming to smaller communities to compete.

“I want to pick a community and a triathlon that’s really going to do some good,” said Avoletta.

He does research around the first of the year to help determine which races and states he’ll compete in that coming summer.

“I like to do the local things cause the money goes directly to the community,” he said.

Avoletta found information about the Powell Aquatic Center Triathlon on www.trifind.com, a website he often uses to coordinate his summer plans and competitions.

The smaller races are “not so competitive,” he said. “People are more down to earth; people just want to participate.”

Avoletta was quick to add that there are a lot of nice people in the bigger races, too, but he found an 850-person race in Missouri “way too big.”

The race was held at the University of Missouri in Columbia with the infield of the football stadium serving as the transition area; Avoletta described the infield as nothing but bikes.

“It was like, ‘Where in the Hades is my bike?’” Avoletta said, laughing and adding, “Luckily, I remembered where my bike was.”

Of the 13 races Avoletta attended prior to Powell’s, Avoletta couldn’t pick a favorite. When rating triathlons, he bases that decision on the whole package — for both he and his wife, Karen.

“Triathlons aren’t really a spectator sport. You see me swim and then I’m gone and then you can’t really see me do anything.” said Avoletta. “I try to make it fun for us, we go on vacation; we kind of make a trip out of it.”

He added, “I gauge it on ... did we do some really fun things for her [Karen]? Did she really enjoy the vacation?”

In Minnesota, the couple went to Okoboji Lake and stayed at an old train depot converted into a bed and breakfast. At a race in Fort Worth, Texas, they got to watch longhorn cattle herded down the streets; in Tennessee, they went to Dollywood; in Omaha, Nebraska, Avolette said they saw an “unbelievable” zoo and a “lights out amazing” botanical garden.

While in Wyoming, Avoletta and his wife stayed in Cody, taking the Cody Trolley Tour and visiting the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. They then headed to Utah the following weekend, where he competed in another event and they planned to see a live theatre production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

“We make a little vacation,” Avoletta said of the trips to the various states.

In addition to the previously mentioned states, Avolette has also competed in Indiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Kansas and Iowa.

Karen is a kindergarten teacher and so right now, Avoletta only competes in the summer so his wife can travel with him. Currently, his goal is to compete in three to four triathlons a summer.

“She’ll be retired in two more years and then, boom! Here we go; we’re gonna hit it hard,” Avoletta said with a little chuckle.

In September, Avoletta expects to cross his 17th state off the list, competing in Arkansas.

As for the PAC Triathlon and state No. 14, Avoletta said everyone was really nice and “I had a great time.”

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