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Thursday, September 28, 2023


May 2, 2002 – With about 900 triathletes, their families and their friends gathering on St. Croix for the island's annual Half Ironman triathlon on Sunday, cash registers are jingling.
"It's already going crazy," Ted Raub, cashier at Endurance Sports in Castle Coakley, said Thursday.
Endurance Sports mechanic Eric Hutchins, trying to talk on the telephone and assemble a bicycle at the same time, called it a circus. "But a good circus," he said.
He said he will do as much business in the three days leading up to Sunday's event — which involves swimming, bicycling and running — as he normally does in two months.
Many of the athletes make Endurance Sports their first stop off the airplane, to get their bicycles assembled, Hutchins said. They're also buying tires and nutritional supplies. Once the event is over, he said, he'll sell a good number of bicycles to residents who get bike fever after watching the athletes do what they do best.
Business is so good for the few people who fix bicycles that the Frederiksted-based St. Croix Bike and Tours had set up shop at the Old Chart House Building in Christiansted for the duration. No one at this company could be reached for comment.
Both large and small hotels are just about filled up.
"We're close to a sellout," Chris Goodier, spokeswoman at the Buccaneer Hotel, said. The 132-room hotel stocked up ahead on bottled water and big baskets of fruit for their health-conscious athlete guests, she said.
At the six-room Inn at Pelican Heights, owner Fred Laue said his customers have come from Germany, France, South Carolina and Florida for the triathlon. "Half are repeat or had recommendations from people on the island," he said. May would normally be the month with the second-lowest occupancy — September takes honors for the first, Laue said, so the triathlon gives his hotel a much-needed boost.
Budget Rent-A-Car had a few vehicles left, manager Careel Shillingford said, but the triathlon helped get the rest out of the lot. She said vans and Jeeps are popular with the athletes because they need room to carry their bicycles.
The event also gives restaurants and grocery stores a boost.
"Tropicana juice is moving fast," Art Mandel, a salesman at the Hunter Foods wholesale operation said. He said he's also delivering a lot of granola bars to grocery stores.
Healthful foods are popular among restaurant patrons, too. Kelly Holmes, manager at the Avocado Pitt, a small spot on the Christiansted waterfront, said customers have been ordering lots of fruit, granola and veggie dishes. "But next week, they'll be ordering burgers," she quipped.
The athletes get a few meals included in their entry fee, including the traditional Carbo Feast — a meal high in carbohydrates, which the body burns as fuel — at a selection of Christiansted restaurants on Saturday night. But most of them eat the rest of their meals at the island's restaurants.
"We'll spend a couple of hundred bucks on meals and stuff," said Jude Woodcock, a St. John triathlete who with her husband, Jeff Miller, will be taking part in the event.
She said she and Miller are at the low end of the spending scale because they are cheap and because they have a free place to stay and free transportation from St. John to St. Croix. She said other St. John athletes heading to St. Croix for the event will spend to take the Fast Ferry over from St. Thomas, run up their charge cards at hotels and, like her and her husband, drop a bundle at restaurants.
Woodcock estimated those more willing and able to spend could easily lay out $500 apiece for the weekend.
Laue at the Inn at Pelican Heights said the athletes do not spend as much as regular vacationers. He estimated that the athletes average about $200 a day, not including a hotel room or airfare, compared to regular tourists who spend about $300. The main difference, he said, is that the athletes put their time into training while regular vacationers indulge in island tours, excursions to Buck Island and other organized outings.
The triathlon is filling up the V.I. Family Sports and Fitness Center, but its financial impact it zilch — because the facility lets the professional triathletes use the place for free, and even the amateur competitors get to use it once at no charge.
However, manager Kim Rice said it's nice to have the athletes come through the doors. She said most come only to swim laps in the pool. "They have nice techniques and a great attitude," she said.
As the triathlon continues to grow, so does the publicity. For the first time this year, the race will air on national television during prime time — on the Outdoor Life Network, which is available in 60 million American homes. ESPN International, available in 125 countries, also will carry event coverage. And stories about the St. Croix Half Ironman will appear in niche magazines targeted toward the triathlete. Ian Sweet, media coordinator for the event, said such coverage will attract even more athletes to the St. Croix event in the future.
And the island's blue waters and sunny skies will probably catch an eye or two as televisions viewers with no interest in triathlons channel surf. This could lure a few more tourists to the island.

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