In 2006, after two years of helping draw fans to the St. Joseph Island Triathlon, Stew Blake decided instead to help give those fans something to cheer about.
Taking a place among the competitors who ran, swam and cycled through the third edition of the Olympic-distance race, the veteran triathlete crossed the line in second place, behind only Tom Stiene of Bradford.
"In the first couple of years, (race founder and director) Sherri Smith needed a lot of help," said Blake, a 44-year-old Sault resident. "They needed people to volunteer. I was interested in seeing it succeed, so I decided to volunteer.
"It's been really nice to see it take off the way it has."
Blake will be taking off himself again Saturday, looking for his first win at the fourth edition of the event.
"Well, it would be nice, but at the same time it's more about improving on how I raced last year, just being happy with my performance.
"And of course, it all depends on the conditions of the day and where I am with my training and my health."
Last year Blake completed 1,500 metres of swimming, 40 kilometres of cycling and a 10-kilometre run in 2:16:34, 7:02 behind Steine and 1:22 ahead of fellow Saultite and perennial contender Eric Piscopo.
"I'd be really happy with a time under two hours and 20 minutes, which is about where I was last year," said Blake, who works as a growth facilitator for the Ontario Forest Research Institute.
"If I could do that again, I'd definitely be happy with it. Once again, depending on the conditions. As long as there aren't any huge waves or anything."
Saturday's field, which organizers expect to include competitors from Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Maryland, Texas and Alberta, will likely offer Blake all the competition he can handle.
But these days, he also has the makings of a friendly family rivalry with two of his children.
Daughter Hayley, 13, will compete in her third Kids of Steel Triathlon, while 10-year-old son Graham will take part in the event for the first time.
"He's looking forward to it," Blake said. "His cousin and some of his classmates are also in it, so it should be fun for him."
The Blake children are getting an earlier start in the sport than their father. A runner in high school and an avid swimmer, Stew Blake combined the two sports with cycling for the first time in his 20's.
"I had a friend who did it before, and when the opportunity came up, I tried, too," Blake said. "As soon as I tried once, I was hooked."
As many as 400 entrants are expected for the 2007 event, which begins at 8:30 a.m. The St. Joseph Island Triathlon is actually composed of several events, including the Olympic triathlon and the Kids of Steel, for children aged 7-15.
As well, there are adult triathlons and duathlons of various distances.
"It's great to see the way it's grown," Blake said. "That's why I decided to start competing in it. Sherri's got it running smoothly now, and she doesn't really need me anymore. I didn't feel like I was abandoning her."
He lauded Smith for her success in finding support for the event from local business. Another secret to the race's success, he said, is its appeal to the racers themselves.
"It's not an easy course, but it's not super tough, either," Blake said. "It's a very fair course.
"There's a beautiful run, the swim is great and the bike is nice and quiet. There are a few hills, some parts of the run that are very challenging, but it's very picturesque."