Patoka 'perfect place’ to host triathlon

Herald Enterprise Editor

When the question was posed, there was no logical answer.

At some point in 2009, a friend of Dana Reckelhoff asked the then-seasonal employee at Patoka Reservoir why the grounds had never hosted a triathlon. To the friend, the place represented an ideal setting for the combination of swimming, cycling and running.

Three years later, Reckelhoff was working full time for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at the reservoir and decided to give the idea a shot. After more than a year of planning, the triathlon notion will be put in motion in the Head For The Hills Patoka Lake Triathlon on Saturday, Aug. 24. It will get off to an 8:30 a.m. start on the beach.

“We have the perfect place to do it,” said Reckelhoff, an interpretive naturalist at the lake. “We have water. We have roads where there isn’t a big concern for safety. We have awesome areas to run, beautiful scenery.”

That’s what Drew Kinman was thinking when he moved to Jasper in 2009. The Petersburg native met Reckelhoff through work, and Kinman arrived in Jasper having recently completed in a handful of triathlons. Upon settling into his new home, Kinman, who’d relocated to Dubois County from Evansville, often saw runners and cyclists along the roads in town. He guessed the interest in exercise would have led him to a local triathlon. He found nothing.

“You’d think something was in place, especially at Patoka Lake because so many people go there,” Kinman, 30, said. “I thought somebody would have said something earlier.”

With its beach and plenty of room for competitors to transition from swimming to cycling and cycling to running, Kinman said Patoka Lake is a fitting host. Other state parks, including Brown County near Nashville, O’Bannon Woods in Corydon and Fort Harrison east of Indianapolis, host various runs, walks and triathlons.

Reckelhoff’s initial plan aimed for a triathlon last year, but paperwork — since the event will take place on the grounds of a state agency, there is a glut of legal matters — delayed the inaugural race until this summer.

The target audience has few parameters. The format is what’s called a sprint triathlon, with shorter distances than Olympic- or Ironman-length events. Head For The Hills athletes will swim 500 yards in open water, then ride their bikes along 12.8 miles of rolling roadway before completing a 3.1-mile run through the woods on paved paths. The hope is that the distance, combined with the course layout and park location, will pull both dedicated triathletes and amateurs interested in testing their mettle. The race also will feature a relay in which teams can split the workload. There will be a quarter-mile kids run as well.

“We didn’t want to be extreme,” said Reckelhoff, who studied other similar events to build a knowledge background and designed the course with reservoir specialist Tom Riley. “For maybe those people who compete in triathlons, this can be a warm-up course for another event. And this can be for people who have never done one and think it’s something they can conquer.”

Reckelhoff is hoping for 150 to 200 participants but has been told not to fret over early registration numbers. She’s been pelted with inquiries but figures most folks will sign up for the event only a few weeks in advance.

Given the cause, she won’t turn anyone away. Proceeds from the event will benefit the park’s raptor program, which lost its bald eagle in 2009 when the bird died during surgery. New birds are rescue projects that have suffered permanent injuries and thus often require medical attention.
Reckelhoff is hoping to land a bird to join Patoka’s red-tailed hawk and Eastern screech owl.

“In 2009, I decided, ”˜Why not?’” Reckelhoff said. “We can benefit the property and bring more people into our area. Its all been really challenging because it’s so new to us. But I like a challenge.”

Contact Jason Recker at

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