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First Baptist to be among boosters of town’s growing triathlete status

CLERMONT, Fla. (BP)–The central Florida town of Clermont is emerging as an international destination for triathletes, and First Baptist Church there is already planning to minister internationally without leaving home.

A triathlon is a race that includes three disciplines: swimming, cycling and running. Although Americans may be familiar with the Ironman Triathlon, the more typical race is the sprint triathlon. The sprint is a one-mile swim, followed by a 10,000-meter run, then a 40-mile bicycle race. The sport is now included in the Olympic games.

Already the site of more than seven triathlons yearly, Clermont soon will be the home of the USA Triathlon National Training Center. The center is moving from the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Florida Baptist layman Jeff Duke is director of the center and is overseeing its construction on a 155-acre site. The campus will include the new South Lake Hospital, community education center, aquatic complex, athlete dormitories and fitness center, in more than 100,000 square feet of facilities.

“Central Florida is an ideal location for races because of the topography of the region,” Duke explained. “Also, even though central Florida is a world tourist destination, Clermont is in a rural area and provides the space we need.”

The national championship and the world championship qualifying triathlons have been held in Clermont and almost every race draws more than 1,000 competitors.

Most races are held on Sunday mornings, with the awards presented after the event. While waiting on the official results, athletes usually recover from the grueling events on the shore of Lake Minneola. First Baptist Church, of which Duke is a member, has formed a team that plans to minister during the lull between the race and awards ceremony.

“We want to have live music, refreshments and testimonies in a relaxed, casual atmosphere,” said pastor Danny Davis. “We want it to be a celebration.”

The new ministry has international implications because the rapidly emerging sport is the only major sport without an organized Christian ministry.

Duke moved to Clermont three years ago from Tallahassee, where he was a member of First Baptist Church and served on the staff of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He is excited about the possibilities presented by the new ministry, and he has found a kindred spirit in his pastor.

“When I first talked with Danny about this, I told him that this might have to happen at 11 a.m. on Sunday, exactly during church,” Duke said. “His first words were, ‘That’s OK. Where do you think Jesus would be?’ That is unbelievably thrilling.”

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  • Carolyn Nichols