Kitsap Babes “Tri” Danskin challenge

From humble beginnings, the Danskin Women’s Triathlon has become the hot thing to do on the Kitsap Peninsula.

The race is held annually in Seattle but the Kitsap contingent taking part in the event has grown exponentially each year.

The woman who started it all, Lisa Ballou of Seabeck, never saw it coming.

“I had no idea it would ever get this big. Last year, it kind of dawned on me, this is a big group,” Ballou said. “And now this year, it’s quite shocking.”

Two years ago, there were seven. Last year, there were 30. When they arrive at 7 a.m. Sunday at Memorial Beach, they will be 70 strong.

And at the rate they are going, they could easily have more than 100 women in their midst donning the Kitsap Tri Babes team’s pink and black by the time they run again in 2006.

Ballou’s bunch began as the Seabeck Bunko Babes, just a group of friends playing a dice game.

“A silly dice game,” Ballou said. “I call it Yahtzee for idiots. I strong-armed my friends into doing the triathlon with me. All (the growth) has been through word of mouth. Last year, with the 30 I think everybody still knew one of the original seven. This year, there are people who are just hearing about it.”

Ballou has put a number of triathlons under her own belt in recent years including the Ironman Canada last August in Penticton, B.C. and the Silverman in Las Vegas. Her goal is to get to the big one, the Ironman Hawaii held on the Big Island and nationally televised on NBC.

“I’m gonna keep trying,” Ballou said. “One of these days, I’ll do it.”

The Danskin is not an Ironman qualifier, Ballou said, but some professionals will be there “for fun.” It is largely beginners, however, so the mostly new Tri Babe group will feel right at home.

Amy Higgins is one of those newcomers. A schoolteacher, she felt comfortable right away amongst a group where many work in the field of education.

“I work with teachers who’ve done it,” Higgins said. “That’s how it started, peer pressure pretty much.”

Higgins has had a good time preparing for the event.

“I work out anyways, but not to this intensity,” she said. “It’s good, though. It’s manageable.”

The team practices together twice a week, usually a swim at Wildcat Lake one morning and a “brick” workout the other, with a bike ride and a run back-to-back. Ballou provides the team members with workouts to do on their own the rest of the week, adding up to training six days a week in all.

The Tri Babes had what Ballou called “a dress rehearsal” Saturday, combining all three parts for the first time to get the triathletes used to making the transitions from water to road to running.

“She’s just amazing that she’s done all this,” Higgins said of Ballou.

The team leader is known to her athletes as the “Tri Turtle.”

“I made it up myself. It came from John Bingham, a running writer who calls himself ‘The Penguin,’” Ballou explained. “He’s a champion of slowpokes and back-of-the-pack runners ... and that’s me.”

Ballou said the Tri Babes will run in hot pink T-shirts that profess a Bingham quote, “The miracle is not that I finished, the miracle is that I began.”

The Danskin competition is held to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The team includes breast cancer survivors Deborah Vaughn and Pam Kiesel.

Ballou’s mother also was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s become a little more personal for me this year,” she said.

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