A field of 350 participants will hit the water of Long Lake on June 26 to take on the challenge of the Black Hills Triathlon at the Thurston County Fairgrounds. Among those racing will be Judge Brett Buckley and his two daughters, Rian and Michele. They will be racing as a team, in honor of their beloved wife and mother, Ann Cooke.

oly ortho logoThe 2016 race will be dedicated to Ann, who lost her battle with breast cancer late last year. The overall women’s winner will be presented with the inaugural Ann Cooke award. If you are new to the area or the sport of triathlon you may think this race is just getting started. In fact, the Black Hills Triathlon has a rich, 30-year history and Ann is a big part of that legacy.

The race began as Half Iron Man distance (1.2 mile swim, 13.2 mile run and 56 mile bike) and took place at Millersylvania Park. It was started by a group of runners aptly named the Olympia Rain Runners. After 10 years, the organizers were burned out and it was rumored that the race might come to an end. After many years of participating in the race, Brett Buckley and his wife Ann decided that they would take it over in its 11th year.

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Ann Cooke displayed her daily smile and zeal for life. Photo courtesy: ontherunevents.com.

The pair made two significant changes. Brett and Ann had two young girls and were never able to race at the same time. They would both train, and on race day, a coin was flipped. The winner of the coin toss raced and the loser stayed with the children. Childcare was added so both parents could race. The second change was to shorten the event to an Olympic distance (3/4 mile swim, 32 mile bike, 5 mile run) to attract more participants. The field limit was 300 and they filled up the first year and every year thereafter.

Technically Brett was the Race Director but as their matching sweatshirts indicated, Ann was fondly termed the “Race Director’s Director.”

black hills triathlon
The swim start at Long Lake marks the first leg of the Black Hills Triathlon. Photo courtesy: Black Hills Triathlon.

“Ann was an efficiency expert,” Brett explains “Every year I would organize the participant packet assembly line in my idea of order – race bibs, swim caps and pins.” Brett would head to the kitchen to make pizza for the volunteers and while he was away, “Ann would re-organize everything and it would take half the time to assemble the race packets that it would have if done my way.”

Those were the days before online registration was available. “We would field phone calls from April to August,” Brett tells me. “Ann and I had a personal relationship with most of the participants and we knew everyone that was doing the race.” Ann loved the challenge of putting on such a big event. She devised one of the first timing systems and was able to offer splits to racers, something new to triathlon racers at the time. The complicated system took some time to generate results so Brett kept the crowd happy with loads of raffle prizes. “We had a lot of swag to give away,” he remembers.

black hills triathlon
This year the overall women’s winner will be awarded the inaugural Ann Cooke award and a special commemorative item. Photo courtesy: Black Hills Triathlon.

Ann was passionate about the race and an inspiration to many athletes. She was a prominent face in the community and encouraged women in other areas through her work as a financial advisor.

City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby was a close friend of Ann’s. “She had a zest and was a life force. She was so present in whatever she did,” explains Selby. “Ann was an icon of what it means to be a strong woman.” Selby says that Ann was instrumental in encouraging her to run for Olympia City Council and then ultimately be elected as Mayor. “Throughout her life she empowered women, whether to shave time off a race or be financially independent.”

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Assistant Race Director Christie Agtarap gives final instructions to race participants during a previous Black Hills Triathlon. Photo courtesy: ontherunevents.com.

Assistant Race Director, Christie Agtarap explains, “we want to recognize the past history of the race and those who brought triathlon to Thurston County.” Agtarap, along with Race Director Kim Stamp have run the race since it moved to the City of Lacey in 2012. In it’s fourth year, the Black Hills Triathlon is quickly developing a reputation as the best-run race of its kind in the area.

The Black Hills Triathlon is sponsored by Olympia Federal Savings and is a qualifier for the National Senior Games. All participants over 50 are automatically qualified as Senior Games participants. For more information on sponsorships or to register, visit the website www.blackhillstriathlon.com.

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