Spudman is Among Nation’s Oldest Triathlons

Spudman althletes.

Record-Setting Septuagenarian Cares as Much About Comic Relief as His Athletic Accolades

By Dianna Troyer

Reflecting on his nearly four decades of competing in one of the nation’s most popular Olympic-distance triathlons—the Spudman in southeastern Idaho—Randy Stone questions his sanity.

“You could say competing in every Spudman like I’ve done is a sign of a mental defect,” said the 76-year-old retired attorney, laughing. He lives near Burley where the event has been scheduled the last Saturday of July since 1986. “Why would anyone do that?”

He is not alone in his devotion to one of the nation’s most enduring and endearing triathlons, promoted as “home of the fastest swim” because competitors swim downstream with the Snake River’s current. When registration opened January 1, the 38th Spudman sold out in 10 minutes with 2,000 triathletes from 20 states competing in the Olympic distance (1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run) and 350 in the sprint, half the distance.

On July 27, Stone and others will plunge into the Snake River at Burley’s Riverfront Park. The running and biking segments wind through flat tranquil farmland. The event is renowned for volunteers’ hospitality.

Although Stone has set Spudman records, he uses his trademark self-deprecating humor to deflect attention about his athletic accolades. He is the only person to have completed every Spudman since it started. He has done it solo except twice when he joined a team. He even completed the racecourse on his own in 2020 when it was canceled due to COVID-19, dubbing it the “Stoneman.” While he has won his age group several times, he is uncertain of the years because he said winning isn’t his primary focus.

d of being recognized for those records, “I’d rather be known for making people laugh. You certainly have to have a sense of humor to survive life. Doing triathlons with friends is what I do for recreation. It’s a great incentive to be active. With our year-round training, it’s become a lifestyle.”

For half their lives, he and longtime friends Alan Hunter, 72, Alice Schenk, 66, and Brent Lee, 68, have trained together for triathlons including Ironmans (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run). They meet several times a week during their lunch hour at a local gym to train, nicknaming themselves the Lunch Bunch and inviting anyone to join them.

Stone used to do about eight triathlons a year but “decided to wind down as I’ve aged. The Spudman will always be on my calendar, though. Age hasn’t been kind to my times—and that’s OK with me. I’m fine with being a shadow of my former self. My best time was at age 55—2 hours and 20 minutes. As long as I avoid mirrors, I’m 36 forever.”

Besides the camaraderie of friends, he said he does the Spudman to support the Burley Lions Club, whose members organize it as a fundraiser to support their community projects.

“I’ve competed in countless triathlons and Ironmans nationwide, and the Lions Club and their volunteers do a great job. Kudos to them. They’re phenomenal for their efficiency and hospitality.”

Before becoming a triathlete, Stone played tennis to exercise. When friends recruited him to be on their team at the first Spudman, he was hooked and decided to start competing solo.

“The only reason I’m not on a team is that I’d slow everyone down.”

About 20 years ago, he joined a team for only a second time after he injured his Achilles tendon while playing basketball.

“I couldn’t do the running or biking segments so I swam for a team.”

Due to his age, Stone said his family has suggested he compete with a team again or do the sprint distance.

“Not this year. I’ll keep doing the Olympic distance solo as long as I can.”

In photos of his previous Spudmans, Stone is smiling as he finishes the last half-mile. What is he thinking about? He said he motivates himself by envisioning his annual ritual and reward for completing yet one more Spudman.

“I go straight to Dairy Queen and get a large Snickers Blizzard. Then I go home and sit in a cool dark place and relax in solitude and don’t think about anything.”

Paralysis won’t stop her

Stone said Kim Walton, who competes despite paralysis, inspires him. The Spudman organizers accommodate athletes of all abilities who use adaptive wheelchairs for the running and cycling segments.

Walton, 60, an administrative assistant who lives near Burley, has competed in the Spudman 25 times, both before and after her accident. Depending on teammates, she has done each segment.

“I’ve just had to adapt and learn to do it differently,” she said. “It’s always been something I look forward to—a summer tradition. I’m a people person and like having a training goal.”

Her spinal cord was damaged in 2006 while she was riding her bicycle on an April evening.

“The driver of a van didn’t stop at a stop sign,” she said. “I had the right of way but couldn’t stop in time and hit the back of the van.”

Before the accident, she usually did the swim segment on a team, often with her mother, Sylvia Grooms, and a friend of theirs.

“Mom was inspiring,” Walton said. “She did her first triathlon when she was 50. I did my first at age 40.”

All abilities

Stone also admires B.J. Christenson, a local Minico High School graduate who has won the Spudman’s elite division seven times. He started competing the summer after his sophomore year in high school when his track coach Alice Schenk encouraged him to enter.

“A hometown person had to win it,” said Christenson, 46. “After a lot of training, especially with swimming during college, I finally reached my goal 13 years later and placed first.”

He became dedicated to triathlons, completing 23 Ironmans and qualifying for 10 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. At 6-foot 7-inches, he was nicknamed the Iron Giant on the circuit.

“My times began to slow as I aged, so when I turned 40 in 2018, I semi-retired,” he said. “I’ll keep doing the Spudman, though.”

One of his most memorable Spudmans was in 2019 when he decided to complete it with Reese Thorne, a teen with cerebral palsy. Although nonverbal, Reese’s smile expressed his obvious joy at participating.

“A person with a disability should still enjoy a full life and not have to sit on the sidelines,” Christenson said. In the northern Utah running community, where Christenson also competes, Reese was well known. His mother Carla coordinated with a volunteer to push him at the races.

“Reese inspired others because he was so happy just being there,” said Christenson, who also took Reese on some Utah triathlons. During the swim segment, Reese rode in a raft that was tethered to B.J. For cycling, he was in a cart attached to the bike. For the final run, B.J. pushed him in an adaptive chair.

Reese died from natural causes in 2022 shortly after turning 18 and graduating from high school.

“He reminds me every day to not let trials of life stop you from reaching your full potential,” his mother said.

For Stone, Walton, and Christenson competing in the Spudman is a summer ritual.

“I’ve still got a few more Spudmans left in me,” Stone said. “Life is good.” ISI

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