Bill Sandford stands still as strangers write in black marker on his body. The front of his thighs and biceps are marked with the number 106. The back of his calf gets a 56, for his age.
When they are finished using Sandford as a graffiti wall, he steps offshore into the open water of a lake, where he wades through the crowd of other triathletes to find his place.
Since 2006, Sandford has participated in 15 triathlons. What he has learned in those races has improved his skills considerably, he says. Now he wants to share his experience with others interested in the multi-sport event.
He hopes to do so through the startup of the Huntersville-Concord Triathlon Club, which will hold its first official meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 in the Moss Creek Clubhouse in Concord. Casual meetings to measure interest began in October, but this month the club will become recognized by USA Triathlon, the nation's authority on the sport.
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USA Triathlon is responsible for selecting and training teams for international competitions like the Olympics. It also assists in expanding the sport's reach at the community level.
Sandford, a director of marketing for a firm in Charlotte, began training for triathlons after a foot injury sidelined him from his weekly runs.
"The only reason I got into swimming was because of the injury," he said. "And it turned out to be a good thing."
An avid runner who logged close to 900 miles a year, Sandford quickly discovered the benefits of multi-sport exercise. "When you're swimming and you're biking, you're cross training," he said. "You're not beating up one particular part of you're body."
Many people agree with Sandford. USA Triathlon has seen membership grow from 15,000 in 1993 to 135,000 in 2010. That growth steadily began climbing after the 2000 Olympics, when the first triathlon was hosted at the international competition. In the last five years, the number of races offered annually has doubled, with more than 3,000 triathlons in the United States in 2009.
Locally, communities have held their own triathlons. Last year, Laurel Park, a neighborhood in Concord, sent locals swimming through their community pool and running and biking along its residential streets in the neighborhood's first triathlon.
Active and healthy lifestyles have become a big part of neighborhoods. Road races through subdivisions like Laurel Park and Moss Creek have become commonplace. Moss Creek even offers exercise classes held at the clubhouse.
The Huntersville-Concord Triathlon Club is one more outlet for people to participate in a healthier lifestyle, said Sandford.
Monthly forums will be offered for members to get tips on nutrition, stretching, and injury prevention.
Twenty-five members have already signed up, aging from 23 to 58, and covering all skill levels, from those who have never participated to more seasoned triathletes.
Sandford said members will be placed into groups based on ability. Those within each group, he hopes, will see the benefits of training together.
"If you go do your training session by yourself, there's no way you're pushing anywhere near as hard as you are with that group," he said.
But in the end, said Sandford, a competitor's only worthy opponent is himself.
"That's the good thing about a triathlon, it's really you against you."