15 May 2022
LOS ANGELES: Team Sanders claimed victory at the first PTO Pro Am, a new event celebrating triathlon’s power to inspire. PTO professionals, Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) stars and amateur special guests teaming up in a race from Venice Beach to Downtown LA in a bid to secure the first-ever PTO Pro Am title. Meanwhile, the Herbalife24 Triathlon Los Angeles elite race featured a competitive race with athletes vying for a slice of the $100,000 prize purse courtesy of the PTO.
With nine athletes spread across the six teams, the Pro Am event belonged to the CAF stars as much as the PTO professionals with both groups of athletes uniting to show their strength, passion and competitive desire.
The race provided compelling viewing as the CAF athletes and their PTO and amateur teammates raced together. Three-time Paralympian Chris Hammer (Team Jackson) and 2019 World Para Swimming Championships silver medallist Ahalya Lettenberger (Team Chura) traded the lead in the water but it wasn’t long before an excellent swim from Endeavor Games silver medallist, Haven Shepherd, put Lionel Sanders into the race and, soon after, the lead. Sam Long was next onto the bike thanks to a great swim from three-time Paralympic swimmer-turned-rock climber Emily Gray. Meanwhile, 17-time World Triathlon Paratriathlon event gold medallist Allysa Seely and number one in the US Paralympic 100m freestyler Jamal Hill passed the baton to Daniel Baekkegard and Skye Moench respectively.
Ripping through the bike course, Sanders reached Downtown LA with a significant lead to pass the head of the race to former UFC star Paul Felder. Behind, Daniel Baekkegard caught Sam Long at T2, leaving Modern Pentathlon Olympic silver medallist Heather Fell and five-time Paralympic medallist Rudy Garcia-Tolson to duke it out on the run for the podium places. Meanwhile, Team Jackson was out after Heather Jackson suffered a blown tyre on the bike.
Despite the lead delivered to him off the bike, Felder pushed himself to the limit on the run to secure the first-ever PTO Pro Am title with a new 10km PB for Team Sanders – Haven Shepherd, Lionel Sanders and Paul Felder reuniting at the finish line. Heather Fell ran well with not even a wrong turn after lap one stopping her from claiming second for Team Baekkegard. With his usual class, Rudy Garcia-Tolson ran strong to take the third spot for Team Long. Roderick Sewell brought home the anchor leg for Team Chura in fourth with Team Moench’s Dr Kent Bradley coming home in fifth.
Finish Line Quotes
“I knew they had assembled a strong team because we were going to dominate this event from start to finish,” said Sanders. “Haven got us a big lead and then I just tried to hang on to it and then Paul brought it home so it was a lot of fun… It was a full-blown competition. I knew I’d be out here trying to compare my bike time to the pros and to Sam Long and to Daniel [Baekkegard] so I rode as hard as I can and I’m excited to go look at the results and see where I stacked in the bike portion of the race.”
“I would definitely say this is the greatest way to go into your late teens,” said Shepherd “I’d just turned 18 years old going into my Olympic Games and then being asked to do this triathlon with these guys… I was very thankful that they chose me to be on their team… I wanted to go out really nice and smooth but I definitely booked it on the way back to shore!”
“I didn’t do any course preview… the hills were for real out there,” said Felder. “When you were going up that thing it was steep so I knew – OK, I could get sub-40… I ran hard and I got to run out there with all the pros and I had such a good start with these guys kicking it off for me so it was awesome.”
PTO and CAF Partnership
The event marks the culmination of a shared vision between the PTO and the Challenged Athletes Foundation to bring these athletes together and showcase their talents to the world.
“I was delighted when Sam Renouf got in contact about involving some of our amazing CAF athletes in the first-ever PTO Pro Am,” said Bob Babbitt. “It was truly inspirational to see athletes from both the CAF and PTO share a platform, broadcast around the world to sport’s power to bring together people of all backgrounds and change lives for the better.”
“We couldn’t be happier with the first PTO Pro Am,” said PTO CEO Sam Renouf. “The combination of CAF athletes, PTO professionals and special-guest amateurs made for a unique broadcast format, celebrating the stories of this inspirational sport.”
With $100,000 of PTO prize money up for grabs in the elite race, a fast swim and a strong bike legs from the USA’s Eric Lagerstrom and South Africa’s Jamie Riddle put these two at the front of the race by T2 with just over a minute’s lead to Australia’s Steve McKenna. Pushing the pace towards the finish, it was Riddle who kicked ahead to score the victory with Lagerstrom second and McKenna third.
In the women’s race, Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes was first out of the water, first off the bike and first across the line to claim the win. New Zealand’s Amelia Watkinson was next off the bike ahead of the USA’s Amy Sloan in third, positions that reversed to put the American in second and the Kiwi third by the finish.
The next PTO event will be the PTO Canadian Open, which kicks off the PTO Tour on 23-24 July. Following the race in Edmonton, the PTO Tour will head to the Collins Cup in Bratislava on 20-21 August before coming back to North America for the US Open in Dallas on 17-18 September. All PTO Tour events will feature big-money pro races as well as age-group events, creating a festival vibe for competitors and supporters alike.