From winning cases to winning races

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 8, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

All last summer, Sue Walton jogged throughout her Waterstone neighborhood (near Chesapeake Square Mall), biked around Driver, and swam up and down the pool at the Virginia Beach Recreation Center, and in the ocean itself. She was preparing for the Sandman Triathlon, and the Suffolk Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s attorney was ready to make her mark in the three sports.

Then, just days before the event, Hurricane Isabel ripped through South Hampton Roads, crushing trees and houses, knocking out power, and throwing the entire area out of whack for weeks. Needless to say, the Sandman event became an afterthought.


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&uot;I was really disappointed,&uot; Walton said. &uot;I had trained really hard, but it’s always great to stay in shape.&uot; She should know; after spending a large part of her younger years in swimming pools, Walton played basketball at George Mason University, then became a serious runner after moving to Lynchburg in 1993.

&uot;I’d alw-ays been in pretty good shape,&uot; she said, &uot;and being in a small town and not knowing a lot of people, I just started running every day after work.&uot; She joined a running group, ran in the 1996 Boston Marathon and the 1997 Rock N’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, and competed in her first triathlon in 1998.

Two years later, Walton moved to Hampton Roads to work in the Commonmwealth Attorney’s office, and knee surgery ended her marathon days in 2001. But she still kept in shape to officiate high school soccer, and was a common sight in recreational basketball tournaments.

After Sandman went under, Walton turned her sights toward the Breezy Point Triathlon, to be held June 6 at the Norfolk Naval Station. Five days a week, she was back on the bike, back on her feet, and back in the water.

&uot;The ocean was cold, but it’s more comparable to race conditions,&uot; she said. &uot;I’d go out about 20 yards, and swim along the beach. It was choppy out there, but it was straight; in the pool, you had to do flip turns.&uot;

The morning of the event, she recalls, Walton and the rest of the 700+ participants crowded into a transition area near Willoughby Bay. After being divided into groups by age and gender, they settled into the chilly, choppy, murky water. &uot;Swimming was hard,&uot; Walton said. &uot;I got kicked in the head and the arm and cut my foot on a clam shell, and I ran into a guy in front of me that was doing the breastroke.&uot;

After completing the 1K (.62 mile) course in 18:57.75 (putting her in seventh place for the Women’s 34-39 group, Walton charged out of the water, yanked off her swim cap and goggles, put on her t-shirt, biking helmet and clip-on pedal shoes, yanked up her 18-speed bike, and hurtled toward the biking area, which began on the Mason Creek Bridge and covered 20K (12.4 miles) around the base. Pedaling along at about 20 miles an hour, she whipped through the course in another 36.57.60, moving her up to third place.

&uot;The bike was good,&uot; she said. &uot;I did better than I had on the swim. I’d drank a lot of disgusting, dirty bay water, so I cramped up a little.&uot;

Finally, it was time for her specialty; the 5K (3.1 mile) run along the sea wall. Slipping on a baseball cap to keep her hair and the sun out of her face and pinning the number 876 to her shirt, Walton sped off.

&uot;The hard part is using certain muscles in your legs while you’re biking,&uot; she said. &uot;My legs felt unsteady for the first hundred yards, but my run was pretty good.&uot; Yes it was – by crossing the finish line in 22:03.10, she finished the three events in 1:20:46.65, good enough for second in her age group, and 20th out of 225 ladies.

&uot;I felt like I’d given it my best effort,&uot; she said. &uot;I love to compete, so it was a real thrill.&uot; It’s a feeling she’ll try to recover in September when the next round of the Sandman event comes to Virginia Beach (hopefully, Isabel’s twin won’t come to visit).

&uot;It’s harder to train in summer than in spring,&uot; she said. &uot;My training’s been about the same, but not as hard.

&uot;At least, not yet.&uot;