NORMAL - The winners of Saturday's fourth annual Evergreen Lake International and Sprint Triathlons will have many advantages over Skipp Schaefbauer.
They'll have logged more training using the latest scientific methods and most advanced gear.
That doesn't bother the former Illinois State basketball player, a feared 3-point shooter for the 1996-97 and '97-98 Redbirds.
The 35-year-old firefighter for the Town of Normal entered Saturday's 7:30 a.m. sprint triathlon - which features a 500-meter swim, a 40K bike and a 10K run - because he needs a reason to train. (The international race, a 1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run offering $3,500 in prize money, begins at 7 a.m.)
"If I could do two or three of these a year, maybe four, what it would allow me to do is always have a goal to work towards," Schaefbauer said.
The 6-foot-3, 202-pounder, 13 pounds lighter than in his playing days at ISU, still plays a little basketball recreationally, but finds it nearly impossible to round up nine others who can play at the same time.
Schaefbauer made his triathlon debut in the June 6 Tri-Shark Classic at Evergreen Lake where he swam 600 yards, biked 13 miles and ran 5K in 1 hour, 20 minutes, 42 seconds to place 215th.
"It made me want to try another one," said Schaefbauer, who had only seen a triathlon on TV until that day.
All he wanted to do was finish and get an idea of what it was like. What he discovered was race organizers made rookies feel as welcome as veterans.
Schaefbauer finished the Tri-Shark swim in 13:49.1, averaged 19.9 mph on the bike and 7:45 per mile on the run. Now he wants to go faster.
The third-year fireman learned about the triathlon from fellow firefighters in the sport.
"It's a good way for me to stay in shape for my job," said Schaefbauer, who borrowed a bicycle for the Tri-Shark.
"I wanted to try it first before I went and spent money on a bike that would maybe sit in the garage and not be used," he said.
A Decatur firefighter has loaned him an even fancier carbon-fiber bicycle for Saturday.
Schaefbauer isn't discouraged by his admittedly haphazard training, which ranges from 3 to 8 hours a week because of work and family obligations. What he lacks in fitness, he hopes to make up for with adrenalin.
"When you prepare for a game, there is nervous excitement involved and you get that same feeling (in triathlons)," he said.
From what he has seen, triathletes are as mentally tough as any basketball players he has faced.
"So I have to give a lot of credit to the people who are doing these races," he said.
Schaefbauer's family gave him a puzzled look when he announced his triathlon plans.
"They were surprised, but now they are encouraging because it puts me in a better mood when I do the workouts," he said. "I just feel like I'm getting that fix, that competitive fix that I've always had."