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Back on its feet: Jay Benson Triathlon makes a comeback

Art Gardenswartz, who has been active with the Jay Benson triathlon for most of its history, at an early race. The triathlon is back after a four-year hiatus. (Jewish Community Center photo)

The Jay Benson Triathlon, an Albuquerque athletic community institution for more than 30 years, will make its comeback May 12.

The sprint distance triathlon (5K run, 20 K bike and 400 meter swim) will be back at its longtime venue, Kirtland Air Force Base.

The race began in 1977 but was canceled in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombing led to increased security at Kirtland Air Force Base. It was held at West Mesa Aquatic Center in 2014 but has not happened since.

Art Gardenswartz, who was the event organizer for many years, said people at Kirtland, the city of Albuquerque and the Jewish Community Center have been working on getting the event back on the calendar for some time.

“It really took quite an effort, but we are really happy to have it back,” he said. “We want to bring it back to be a fun, local event that is as good for seasoned pros as it is for beginners.”

Runners prepare for the start of the women’s portion of the 2004 Jay Benson Triathalon. Begun in 1977, the Jay Benson Triathlon is one of the country’s oldest multisports events, having started before the famous Hawaii Ironman event. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Registration will begin at a kickoff at the JCC, 5520 Wyoming NE, Monday from 6 to 8 p.m.

Those who sign up at the event will get a discount on the race registration and will be guaranteed entry into the event. Online registration will be available on beginning March 1. The race is limited to adults over 20.

The JCC has also partnered with a professional triathlon coach to provide an eight-week training program. The price of the program includes race registration and access to the JCC .

One of the country’s oldest multisports events -having started before the famous Hawaii Ironman event – it has been both a beginner-friendly event and a family affair for the Bensons.

Mike Benson, who lives in Albuquerque and has participated in more than 20 of the events, said there has been on contingent of family members at each event.

“It’s humbling to know that there are so many people who love this event,” Benson said of the revival.

The first event took place in 1977 when John Shunny, editor of the Sandia Labs News, decided to launch a local event after seeing a triathlon in California.

Thirty-three entrants took part in the first event on Kirtland Air Force Base. Jay Benson was a friend of Shunny’s and took part in the first two years of the event. Benson died of complications from diabetes in 1979, and the triathlon was named in his honor.