Most organized 5Ks, 10Ks, and triathlons have been canceled, postponed or transformed into virtual events by the COVID-19 pandemic. But a group of men who enjoy participating in those kinds of events decided to take matters into their own hands and organized a small private triathlon on Sunday, something they called the “Hillbilly Hustle.”
“We have a group of more than 20 guys in Verona who get together and go for bike rides early in the mornings and on weekends during the warm months, and ski together in the winter,” says Dave Freschi, one of the organizers of the Hillbilly Hustle. “Since many people are working from home, the crew got a lot more active with our rides.” Earlier this summer, they supported crew member Frank Trupia and rode 62 miles to participate virtually in Ride & Stride for Autism. Trupia was the top fundraiser for that event.
But they wanted to do more.“One morning, Dan Robinson and I were on a bike ride, and we started talking about the possibility of having our own race,” says Freschi of his Hillbilly Hustle co-organizer. So the pair began batting ideas around with the rest of the crew. “Our friend Paul Black had the idea that perhaps we could swim at a local lake or at a beach for the event,” says Robinson. “We eventually decided that it would make the most sense to have the swim event at the Verona Pool and keep the race local.”
After a couple of meetings, the group solidified the courses: There would be 18 laps in the Verona Pool (about a quarter mile), a 21-mile bike ride, and a four-mile run. The run segment would start in Cedar Grove Park, the somewhat flat new park on Fairview Avenue, but the athletes then had to power up Read Avenue to get to the top of the Hilltop Reservation. The bike segment would be no less punishing. The participants would have to finish it by making a steep climb on Howell Drive in the Forest Avenue school area. “Since the ride started in Verona, we thought that it would not be right unless some of Verona’s hills were represented,” says Freschi.
“I thought Dave Freschi was a nice guy until I saw these courses that he planned for us,” quips Mark Willner, one of the participants who was experiencing his first triathlon.
It was also Dave Breitenbach’s first race of this kind. “I just started riding with these guys earlier this summer, and thought it would be fun to join,” he says. “It was a good time.” In addition to Breitenbach and Willner, the Hillbilly Hustle competitors included Freschi, Robinson, Black, and Justin Marriott. Trupia volunteered to time the Verona triathlon, and one of the riders even designed a custom Hillbilly cycling jersey for the crew.
Several friends and spouses were on hand to time the event, offer water to the athletes, take pictures, and cheer the racers on. “Maryellen McHugh from Verona Pool was extremely helpful as well by setting up extra lanes for us to swim,” says Marriott. “Her help was significant in making the race a success.”
Paul Black won the first Hillbilly Hustle with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. All of the athletes received custom medals, and Black’s first place prize was the “golden wheel”: A bike wheel spray painted gold by cyclist Bob Thomas that is passed on to one of the guys who makes a significant achievement. “I’m happy that we could get together for this event” says Black. “It was a lot of fun and I think all the lads had a good time.”
The crew is already thinking about its next event, which might be a combo mountain bike and running race or something more. “There has been talk of a 100-mile ride before the end of the year,” says Robinson.