That’s what separated Peter Oakley and Frank Ascioti as they completed this year’s Whidbey Island Triathlon.
The pair represent the contrast of characters who chose the challenge of this summer’s event, which is in its 24th year.
Because of COVID-19, the triathlon’s sponsor, the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District, decided to forgo the traditional gathering of about 200 participants who, in the past, competed head-to-head in a half-mile swim, 19-mile bike ride and 3.75-mile run.
In its place, the SWPRD offered a virtual event, allowing competitors to complete the race on their own sometime between July 24 and Aug. 2.
The sponsors also allowed participants to use alternative methods in place of the traditional swimming, biking and running disciplines.
Oakley, a Whidbey resident, and Ascioti, who is stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, share a love of physical challenges, but that and the completion of the 2020 triathlon are about all they have in common.
For Oakley, 58, the triathlon is an annual summer endeavor — he has missed only one of the 24 races. While on a training bike ride in 2018, he was struck by a car and seriously injured. Also, he started the 2010 event but did not finish when he hit a traffic cone on the course and lost control of his bike.
Since he lives on Whidbey Island, he chose to follow a course that was similar to the one planned for the 2020 race before it went virtual.
Ascioti, 27, competed in his first Whidbey Island Triathlon — in Qatar. He was on deployment from February to July 25, and sweated out the triathlon “all in one go,” he said, on a day the heat index reached 122 degrees.
Oakley, an electronic design engineer who moved to Whidbey Island 23 years ago, saw his older brother complete a triathlon in the late 1990s and told himself, “Maybe I will do that someday.”
“So when the parks and rec district advertised the very first Whidbey Triathlon back in 1997, I was already interested,” he said.
“I was unsure I could complete the swim part, but Brandon Henry, another longtime local athlete, encouraged me to just start practicing swimming.”
Soon Oakley, who did not play sports in high school or college, started to dominate the event.
He was the overall winner of the Whidbey Triathlon four consecutive years, 2000-2003, and finished second or third eight times.
The triathlon also opened the door to other competitions.
He won a 16.2-mile swim race in British Columbia in 2005, and that same year he swam from Glendale to Mukilteo without a wetsuit.
A year later, he swam the length of Lake Sammamish.
In 2002, he won a triathlon in Burlington and completed an Ironman Triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.22-mile run).
In addition, Oakley has run two 50K races and five marathons.
Not only has Oakley been a yearly competitor in the Whidbey Triathlon, he now helps organize the race.
Oakley is “an integral part of the tri committee,” said Carrie Monforte, SWPRD recreation supervisor.
Oakley helps set up the transition areas, guides the pre-race bike ride from the finish line to the start area on the lake and supplies a participant’s point of view at organizational meetings.
“I want to give back to the triathlon which has given me a lot,” he said.
“I would like to add that Carrie Monforte is an amazingly good project manager and race director. She has this race so well organized. The success of the triathlon is mostly due to her hard work.”
Ascioti played a variety of sports throughout his youth in Westfield, Mass.
“My main sport, however, was lacrosse and similar to most of my sporting experiences, I showed up and started in my first game my freshman year of high school without ever having seen an actual lacrosse game in my life,” he said. “I found that a common theme for me was to try new things and go outside my comfort zone.”
That trip to the land of discomfort led to CrossFit, which he saw as a “way to fight of the classic college 15.”
He said his commitment to CrossFit peaked while in flight school in 2014.
“As to why I fell for the sport, was precisely that…it was a sport,” he said. “To this day, I don’t feel comfortable in the gym working on the so-called glamour muscles. I have a competitive mindset and really liked that aspect of CrossFit.”
Ascioti believes you should set goals that “somewhat scare you.”
He first heard about triathlons when NAS Whidbey Island sponsored a military tri several years ago.
“What intrigued me the most was the personal challenge,” Ascioti said. “I am not a distance runner, I rode BMX bikes as a kid but never a road bike and swimming is something that makes me genuinely uncomfortable. I’ve done contact sports, I was good at them, but long-distance is something that scares me because it’s just you out there, grinding through miles to approach ‘the wall’ that I’ve only read about.”
When you reach “the wall,” the only way over it is “you taking your next step,” he said. “Your mindset has to become your greatest weapon, and that is something I want to chase.”
Ascioti plans to test his physical and psychological toughness before he turns 30 by competing in a half Ironman in Washington in September 2021 and then a full Ironman in 2022.
In Qatar, he saw training for the Whidbey Triathlon as a way to break the monotony of deployment where “everyday feels like ‘Groundhog Day.’”
“So, while sitting at work, I signed up for the triathlon, without owning a pair of goggles, riding a spin bike (or) running no more than 2 miles for quite some time,” he said. “I bought a training plan … (and) a pair of goggles at the local exchange and told myself I would complete the triathlon before the end of deployment.”
He trained in 120-degree heat and in an outdoor pool that was between 85 and 90 degrees.
“Luckily,” he said, the spin bike was indoors.
He did his Whidbey Island Triathlon swim at 5 a.m. to best beat the heat, but it was still one of the hottest and most humid days of his deployment. He sprinted back to his room to change clothes and hydrate and then ran to the closest gym to hop on a spin bike.
Then came the running. “I actually was feeling excellent…until I wasn’t. About 15-20 minutes into the run, the heat really started getting to me. I drank some more water and just slowed my pace as to let my body cool down, but it was tough.”
Ascioti said he learned “to dig deep and keep moving,” adding, “I know it wasn’t long, but I can’t remember the last time I kept moving for two hours straight.”