If there’s one local guy who personifies the spirit of a local triathlon this spring, he may be it.

Gary Grace, who townspeople know as the co-owner of Jimmy John’s in Waverly, and the retired VP for Business and Finance at Wartburg College, finally gave it a try.

The TriByKnight race, the triathlon hosted by The W, on the first Saturday in May, was his first attempt at the popular race.

It so happened that it coincided with the triathlon’s 10th anniversary, quite the milestone for the event.

On Saturday morning, sporting No. 350 on his chest, Gary, 64, joined about 300 racers, but he set his own pace.

An active walker who logs “easily” 30 miles a week, and just last year hiked from the north to the south rim of the Grand Canyon in one day, Gary expected to be in a relatively good shape for the triathlon.

His former colleague, Sheila Kittleson, the director of The W, encouraged him to give it a go, and so did his former colleague Mary Goetzinger.

So Gary stepped up to the challenge.

But the reality of the triathlon appeared different than the contemplated plan.

It was an uphill battle for Gary to push through, but he persisted.

The hardest part for him was the swimming, as it was not exactly his element.

“When I was a little kid, I thought it was easy,” he said.

It is enjoyable watching a racer swim 300 yards in the pool, but enduring it took effort, Gary said.

Racers of all ages and abilities took part in the event, Kittleson said, and for many of them, it was the kickoff of their competition season.

In fact, the triathlon has grown in numbers and in scope. Its first installment attracted 80 participants and a decade later, on Saturday, featured 282 registrants with 239 finishing it successfully.

Kittleson estimates that this Saturday about 11% of the triathletes came from Waverly. Among them were three generations of Tomlinsons. Keith Tomlinson, his daughter-in-law, Becky, and granddaughter Alison did different legs of the race.

Becky swam, Alison biked, and Keith ran the 5K.

The other 89% of participants came from as close as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri and as far as Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Kittleson, who has worked on the triathlon since its inception when she first started working at Wartburg College, said over the years, racers have conquered rain, snow, cold and heat.

“The race goes on no matter what Iowa weather brings in early May,” she said.

This year, it was the wind. It nearly zapped whatever strength Gary had remaining as he biked the 15 miles, but he kept pushing the pedals.

In the men’s overall standings, Timothy Bontrager, from Minneapolis, finished at 1 hour, 1 minute and 36 seconds; Adam Rave, from Waverly, at 1:02:41; and Josh Madsen, from North Liberty, at 1:03:17.

In the women’s overall, Heather Rausch, from New Hampton, took the top spot with 1:16:30; Janet McCullough, from Waverly, took second with 1:17:40; and Kylie Kelchen, from Iowa City, placed third with 1:20:16.

Gary finished on his own time, which in itself was a great accomplishment. He placed fourth in the 60-64-year-old men’s age group.

“When you reach my age, you set personal goals for yourself,” he said. “There are so many people who pass away at an early age, then there’s people who are your age and they are not active. I am happy I can do this at whatever speed.”

Gary, who retired from Wartburg in 2013, said at several points, when he was on the verge of exhaustion, his mental mettle was tested.

“At one point, the mental becomes to the physical like 4 to 1,” he said. “Can’t do this without physical fitness, but if you are going to do something like this, you are going to talk yourself into finishing.”

Asked if he would try again, he quipped:

“I’m glad I did it,” he said. “I was just happy I could go at whatever speed. It was humbling. Hiking is a lot more pleasurable to me. I will stick to hiking.”