Local athletes shine in Middlebury triathlon


Cassandra Maximenko of Naugatuck won the women’s title at the BMW of Watertown's Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon July 13 with a time of 1:03.04. The win was Maximenko’s second title at the event in the past three years. RA ARCHIVE
MIDDLEBURY — Four area competitors separated themselves from the field of 500 at the 25th anniversary of the BMW of Watertown’s Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon.

The triathlon was held July 13 at Quassy Amusement Park, and for the second year in a row Chris Thomas of Easton won the overall title and third in five years with a time of 57 minutes, 19 seconds.

While the 39-year-old Thomas continued to be the leader of the pack in the race, which requires a half-mile swim, a 10.5-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run, he is well aware of two up-and-coming triathletes from Naugatuck. Tim Steiskal, 21, and Trevor Heller, 19, came in second (:57.58) and third (:58.38), respectively.

“They both are really improving and do all three (phases) well,” said Thomas. “This has got to be Tim’s best sprint race by far. They’re up and coming, and I’m getting old.”

Steiskal was thrilled with a second-place finish.

“I gave it my all,” said Steiskal, who will be a captain of the Southern Connecticut State University swim team in the fall. “I always dreamed that I would get on the podium after finishing fourth two years in a row. It was a proud moment when I got passed by Chris at the halfway point of the run. To come in second to Chris Thomas is like winning the race.”

A more distant third wasn’t bad for Heller, either.

“Chris really kicked it into high gear and ran around the field like he always does,” said Heller, who will be a sophomore at Bryant College. “Tim pushed me the whole time. I didn’t take my eyes off him the whole time. Tim trains like an animal, and it shows on race day.”

Because of slippery road conditions produced by rain, bikers were cautioned to be extra careful.

“We weren’t going to take too many chances on the bike,” Heller said. “The key was to stay under control.”

That’s precisely what Cassandra Maximenko, 28, of Naugatuck did to capture her second women’s title in the past three years with a time of 1:03.04.

“I did a little rain dance when I arrived here, and it paid off,” Maximenko said. “When the clouds rolled in quickly late in the afternoon, I was glad. For some reason, I race better when it rains. The rain gives you a distraction and you are not as nervous. You start to focus on things like bike handling. The water was a little choppy. The actual temperature was warm, but the rain cooled things off and that really helped.”

A year ago, Maximenko came in second by a mere two seconds to overall women’s winner Michele Wolfson of Rye, N.Y. This time, Maximenko beat Wolfson by nearly three minutes.

“Cassandra was driven.” said Mike Maximenko, Cassandra’s husband. “She really trained hard for this.”

As the trio of Naugatuck athletes made their impact at the scoring table, Prospect’s Tanya Sage made her mark as the feel-good story of the race.

Prospect’s Tanya Sage prepares last week for the BMW of Watertown's Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon. Sage, who is legally blind, competed in the triathlon with the help of her husband Rich, and friend Laurie Veillette. RA ARCHIVE

Sage, 44, is legally blind and her route to last week’s race was an uphill battle.

In the fall of 2001, Sage was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She endured surgery, 25 radiation treatments and four or five chemotherapy treatments.

Three years later, she was married and enjoying life with her husband when the unthinkable occurred—she was involved in a four-car accident in Meriden on Nov. 29, 2005.

On Sage’s blog called reabledathlete.wordpress.com, she lists all of the injuries from the accident: Contra-coup brain injury, a stroke (left-side), all four arteries in my neck dissected (splintered internally), a broken left collarbone, spinal bleeding, two cracked ribs, a punctured and collapsed left lung, and a lacerated liver.

When Sage regained consciousness on Dec. 23, 2005, she vowed to get better.

“I willed myself back,” said Sage, in an interview prior to the triathlon. “Every day I knew that it would take baby steps. The determination that I knew I always had finally kicked in.”

After a six-week stay at Yale-New Haven Hospital, she spent another month at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford with extensive occupational and physical therapy.

From then on, she spent a few days a week with out-patient therapy. Looking back, Sage recalled her difficulty with her hand-eye coordination in trying to keep food on a fork or cutting her food with a knife. It was a daily work-in-progress to master simple tasks.

While her mobility has greatly improved—she uses a cane to get around—her center vision remains fuzzy. “It’s just like a filter over a camera lens,” she said.

Still Sage looks at her past as just bumps in the road.

“Death has come for me twice, but I have too much still to do in my life to let these things affect me,” Sage said. “I’ve never been a person to give up on things. I come from strong family with strong French-Canadian women (her mom Donna and aunts Jane and Elaine). I am just following their lead. My husband and father (George) have been so supportive. They have all helped me get through the tough times.”

Sage had plenty of support during her first triathlon.

Her close friend Laurie Veillette handled the bike phase, and Tanya’s husband Rick, accompanied Tanya on the run around Quassy Amusement Park.

Tanya and Rick were the last to complete the triathlon. The couple ended the 3.1-mile running leg of the triathlon at about 9:10 p.m., but the late hour didn’t matter to Tanya.

“I never thought I could jog,” Sage said after the triathlon. “We were walking fast, and I said to Rick, ‘Let’s try to jog.’ Before I knew it, I jogged three-quarters of the way. I was pumped up. I am addicted to this now. I’m a little sore, but that’s OK. I can’t wait for 2012.”