Swim-bike-run. Weight-loss patients follow their doctor into triathlons

Kandaree Dawkins crosses the finish line at the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon.
Kandaree Dawkins crosses the finish line at the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon. Courtesy Alan Wolf, UNC Health Care/UNC REX Healthcare

Kandaree Dawkins had to go out and buy a bike when she decided to sign up for a triathlon. She hadn't ridden one in 35 years.

Dawkins, 60, gathered with about 350 people in the pre-dawn darkness Sunday to prepare for the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon, her first timed race. She and about nine other participants are patients of Dr. Lindsey Sharp, a weight-loss surgeon who a few years ago began encouraging patients to participate in the swim-bike-run contests after trying a triathlon himself.

'I"d never done one before," he said. "I'm not a great swimmer. I went out and I did it and it was tough, but what an amazing experience to do something I didn't think I was able to do. I thought this would be a great confidence builder for patients."

Dawkins hadn't ridden a bicycle in more than three decades before she started training in March. After her weight-loss surgery in 2013, she had mostly been walking and weight training.

She got Sharp's email about triathlons last year but wasn't sure she wanted to try.

"I had doubt that I could do it," said Dawkins, a Clayton resident who works in banking. "He kept encouraging me, so I told him I would do it this year."

As other competitors have done in the past, Dawkins eased her way into the triathlon, turning it into a relay race.. She had a race partner swim the 250 yards in the Rex Wellness Center pool, and she took over for the cycling and running.

Jeanne Schutts of Cary was on a relay team last year, when she ran the final leg after two other competitors swam and biked.

"I got addicted to it and I decided to try to do the whole thing this year," said Schutts, 49.

For a sprint triathlon, the distances are shorter than they are for Olympic, Ironman or other races. Participants swam, biked 10 miles and ran 2 miles.

Dawkins, Schutts and about a dozen more of Sharp's patients got training help from fitness coach Rodney Jenkins, who is a member of the Triangle Triathlon Club. Jenkins gave them training schedules, helped participants practice moving from biking to running and organized "no drop" bike rides every Thursday where inexperienced cyclists could learn the rules of the road and even the slowest person was never left to ride alone.

"Training is essential," Jenkins said. "It makes for a much more enjoyable event."

Michael Ellis greeted Jenkins before the race: "Thanks for keeping me safe on the road."

Ellis, 52, has been exercising regularly since his 2012 surgery. A triathlon offered a new challenge.

"I had already been biking and running on my own," said Ellis, a software engineer. "I just put all three together to see what I can do."

He wore his medal and a smile as he posed for pictures near the finish line with his wife, Katina, and a neighbor.

"The run was kind of tough toward the end, " he said. "My goal was to finish."

Ellis plans to compete in other Rex sprint triathlons this year in Wakefield and Knightdale and wants to improve his times.

One of the biggest challenges for people who lose weight is keeping the pounds off. The Thursday rides were a time when patients could encourage one another.

"It's easy to slip back in those old habits," Dawkins said. "When you’re in a group of people who are like-minded, it helps you stay on track."

Dawkins competed with an injured knee but finished the cycling segment with a smile on her face.

"It was better than I thought it was going to be," she said. "The hills were a tad bit challenging, but I made it."

Bonner: 919-829-4821: @Lynn_Bonner