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New River Gorge Games draw competitors, outdoor lovers

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By Butch Cooper

bcooper@cnpapers.com

304-348-4806

Adam Stephens speeds down a singletrack during the mountain biking portion of Captain Thurmond’s Challenge, a triathlon held Aug. 5 in Fayette County. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Hartley)
Kelby Dierking (left) and Matt Hartman participate in the running portion of the Captain Thurmond’s Challenge triathlon. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Hartley)
Sarah Coffey rides during the mountain biking portion. She was also one of the organizers. (Photo courtesy of Melvin Hartley)
A limited number of T-shirts were available for participants and organizers.

Some of the most challenging terrain for mountain biking, paddling and running can be found in the Mountain State.

At one annual event, a person can experience all three of these challenges and take in some breathtaking scenery to boot. The New River Gorge Games were held Aug. 4-6 in Fayetteville, offering a weekend that combined extreme competition and family-friendly events.

The weekend began with the Fayetteville Town & Country 5K, taking runners along the streets of downtown Fayetteville to the historic Gaines Estate with its rolling hills.

Then came Captain Thurmond’s Challenge -- a 28.5-mile endurance triathlon tackled by hard-core outdoors enthusiasts. It began with a 15-mile mountain bike race starting in Fayetteville, continuing with a seven-mile stretch on the rapids of the New River and finishing off with a six-and-a-half-mile run, mostly uphill.

“It’s such a great family weekend. It really is focused on something for everybody,” said Adam Stephens, owner of Marathon Bicycle Company and an experienced mountain bike competitor who has taken part in this event for many years.

“This is one of the few areas in the country that can actually have this type of race. It’s a rare treat to be able to participate in this,” Stephens said.

Back in January, Sarah Coffey, along with Hilary Nicolau and Toby Evans, owner of Flat Top Fridays barbershop in Fayetteville, took over running and promoting the event.

“None of us had ever promoted a race before,” said Coffey, a stay-at-home mother of three boys who has volunteered for the event over the past four years. “It was difficult, because most bigger companies had already done their budgets.

“We run all the trails and we know the area, so we thought we’d give it a try.”

They were able to rally the community, getting support from local businesses.

“They were able to reach out into different parts of the community that have never been reached before,” Stephens explained. “People who would not normally be part of the race were out there helping to keep it going.”

“We had awesome support from the community,” Coffey added. “We had wonderful sponsors this year, and, without the volunteers in the community, we just couldn’t have done it.”

In the end, their efforts paid off. Organizers believe this was the most successful New River Gorge Games to date.

“The event was so well put together, the energy this year was off the charts,” Stephens said. “It was just a really good time.”

Coffey said they were expecting 40 competitors for the main event on Saturday. Instead, they had 75, including entrants from Ohio, Virginia and Maryland.

“We had no idea what to expect,” Coffey said. “We had a late start planning it and taking over. We were blown away. We’re shooting for 120 next year.”

Marathon Bicycle Company was one of the businesses that helped make the event successful. Marathon is a one-stop shop for anyone cycling in the New River Gorge area.

“It took me an hour-and-a-half to mountain bike 15-and-a-half miles,” Coffey said, who added that part of the bike course runs through her back yard. “It’s extreme. There’s nothing easy about it.”

“It’s a singletrack mountain bike trail that takes you through all of the best that the New River Gorge has to offer,” Stephens added. “It has stunning views and the trails were in great shape. There were some down trees, but that’s just being part of nature, overcoming the challenges it might throw at you.”

Following up on Sunday, the whole family could have fun in the Thurmond Triathlon. This event was for children 7 years old and up, and consisted of a two-mile bike ride through historic Thurmond Depot, a short paddle in the calmer waters of the upper New River, and a run of about a mile.

“Every single person who came stayed to the finish. It was an all-day event. There was plenty of food and fellowship. Everybody had nothing but good words to say,” Stephens said.

He hopes that the success of this year’s event leads to more opportunities around the New River Gorge area.

“Part of what Fayetteville needs is more events. We’re on board to support them, and help draw more participants.”


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