The Ritzville Triathlon – like all of humankind’s finest ideas (spittoons, restroom condom machines, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity …) – was hatched inside a saloon.
Trouble is, none of the stalwart Ritzvillians I consorted with the other day were quite able to reach consensus as to which saloon deserved credit for spawning the civic tradition that celebrates its 26th anniversary this Saturday.
Was it, as Al McBroom suggested, the Pastime? Or could it have been, as Randy Moore insisted rather belligerently, the King’s Inn?
The important thing is that all agreed on the following salient points:
The beloved founding fathers were parked in a bar when an actual triathlon began airing on the in-house TV screen.
The five or so working men gazed in stunned and beery silence as scores of rail-thin, excruciatingly fit athletes exerted themselves under sweltering conditions for no good reason.
One of the observers then uttered the fateful words that would trigger a movement: “Boy, that’s stupid!”
Soon it was determined. This small Adams County farm town 60 miles west of Spokane would host its own Iron Man for the Tired Man.
The Ritzville Triathlon was born.
Or “Boomsday,” as I like to call it because of the first event in this trio of specialties.
Competitors always gather in the morning at the local gun club where each shotgun-wielding contestant blasts away at 50 clay pigeons.
The gunplay is followed by six holes of golf and then two raucous games of bowling.
“There’s no limit to what people will do to gather and drink tubs of beer,” observed Ron Kison.
Not wanting their wonderfully wacky annual event to grow beyond control like the Boston Marathon or the LA Riots, participation is limited to 70 to 100 contestants per year.
(There are a still a few spots open for Saturday’s all-day triathlon. That said, it would be wise to first check on availability by contacting email@example.com. Admission, by the way, is $75 per entrant.)
Speaking as a former finisher, I can testify that this is a wonderful way to waste a Saturday.
I took part in the 1999 Ritzville Triathlon and had a blast – literally.
Unfortunately, the only shotgun I owned was a family heirloom. My 12-gauge, double-barrel L.C. Smith weighed as much as a Lincoln with a deceased mobster in the trunk.
It also delivered a Tyson-like punch, which pulverized my right shoulder after the fourth or fifth missed bird. Not only that, but the boom after boom turned my trigger finger into something resembling an uncooked bratwurst.
Not really a trap gun, my ancient shotgun was more like something you’d use to defend the Alamo when you ran out of kitchen knives.
I wound up hitting a shameful four pigeons out of 50, which, embarrassing as it was, still qualified me as a sharpshooter for the Italian army.
There’d be no glory on this day for Doug.
Of course, the real beauty of the Ritzville Triathlon is this: Who cares?
Most competitors don’t give a hoot about the win or the place; only the showing up counts.
The Boomsday organizers I met at a table inside the Ritzville Public Golf Course repeated this anthem.
Just like Bloomsday to the east, there’s a collector T-shirt for every participant at the Ritzville Triathlon.
Besides McBroom, Kison and Moore, I also met Tia Kubik and a character named Walt Weber. He arrived carrying a clear Lucite bowling ball that had been made with a Budweiser bottle in the middle.
This pretty much sums up the Ritzville Triathlon.
“Some of the guys show up drunk from the night before,” offered Kubik.
Other contestants have also been known to suddenly disappear to go collapse in their motel room in lieu of finishing.
Please understand. Great care is given to making sure that the event involving gunpowder is as alcohol-free as humanly possible.
That’s why the trap shooting is always scheduled first and early in the day.
True, the golf and the bowling were added specifically because “you can drink beer in each event.”
Kubik’s father, the late Ron Kimble (and one of founders), told me this back when I took part.
Even so …
“All parties will be held liable for any personal or property damage” is stated in the not-so-fine print on every official Ritzville Triathlon poster.
There have been a few incidents of beer-related insanity over the years, they told me.
Take, for example, the time a muscular young guy teed off and hit a line drive straight down the fairway and SMACK into golfer Jim Weber’s (Walt’s cousin) left shoulder.
“We couldn’t figure out why he fell down,” recalled Walt, laughing hard at the memory.
On another occasion, a duffer who had a bit too much somehow jumped his golf cart a la Dukes of Hazzard onto the nearby football field and SMACK into a tree.
“We have an understanding,” added Kubik, “that everyone is on their own.”
I’ve always thought that with the right promotion, the Ritzville Triathlon could be an absolutely huge recruiting tool for AA. But it’s also one of the region’s greatest quirky community events.
And no, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be heading to Ritzville on Saturday. Once was enough.
But I will be thinking of all you triathletes and saying a special prayer that everybody yells “FORE!!” before teeing off.