2017-06-15 / Sports

County man wins M22 Challenge

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff


NICK AMATO of Suttons Bay leads a pack of runners up the Dune Climb on Saturday during the ninth annual M22 Challenge. 
Photo: John Hill NICK AMATO of Suttons Bay leads a pack of runners up the Dune Climb on Saturday during the ninth annual M22 Challenge. Photo: John Hill Nick Amato paddled past all five frontrunners and figured the race was all but over.

He was wrong.

Dennis Paull, a 53-year-old from Cheboygan, was hot on his trail.

“He almost caught me on the kayak,” said Amato, a 20-year-old public health major at the University of Michigan. “It was really close. I was looking down to make sure I wasn’t going to get caught too deep or too shallow. At that point, I was just thinking my dismount has to be perfect.”

Amato timed his dismount well enough, raced toward the finish line and clocked in at 1:15:06—2.6 seconds ahead of Paull—to win Saturday’s ninth annual M22 Challenge.

The Suttons Bay native had previously competed four times in the triathlon but didn’t expect to cross the finish line first—at least not yet.


M22 CHALLENGE participants compete in the paddle portion of the race on Saturday. 
Photo: Liam Kaiser M22 CHALLENGE participants compete in the paddle portion of the race on Saturday. Photo: Liam Kaiser “I’ve always dreamed of catching up to the top three,” said Amato, a member of the Michigan triathlon club and 2016 winner of the Fishtown 5K and Orchards at Sunset 5K. “Every year, I grew a little bit and got faster. This was the year I finally made up the distance.”

Amato attributed the win to his participation in the triathlon club, his performance on the kayak and his time spent with the Hagerty Cycling program this summer.

His time on the bike this year was one minute and 56 seconds faster than that of his 2016 performance, which ended with a sixth-place finish.

Amato also received a helping hand from Mother Nature late in the race.

Jordan Wakeley, a 27-year-old from Grayling who uses a canoe instead of a kayak, entered the paddle portion with a four-minute, 25-second lead on Amato.

Strong winds led to wavy waters in Lake Michigan, however, and Wakeley’s canoe sent him into the water on more than one occasion.

“Jordan crushed the whole course,” Amato said. “He was leading when he got in the water, but he capsized his canoe. That opened the door a little bit for another person to come in and take the win.”

Amato’s dad, Duane Amato, was one of three other Leelanau County category winners with a non-Traverse

City address. Duane won his age group for the seventh straight year, clocking in at 1:29:00.

“I look up to him,” Nick said. “He really got me into racing. I wouldn’t know what kind of competitor I was if it weren’t for him. He’s what makes these triathlons so special.”

Jeff Linenger of Suttons Bay (1:31:25), Kim Murray of Leland (1:32:48) and Mimi Ransick of Glen Arbor (1:51:40) also collected victories in their respective categories.

According to results on the Newton Timing website, 819 of 900 registrants finished the race this year.

“There was just such great energy from everyone involved,” said M22 Chief Operating Officer Nick ‘Mox’ Madrick. “To hear from the athletes that it’s such a well-organized and fun event—and that it’s challenging to run up a huge sand dune—it takes the whole triathlon competition to a different level.”

The event filled up in just three minutes this year, Madrick said.

He said some consideration has been given to expanding the race, but limitations within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore have prevented organizers from pursuing such expansion, at least for the time being.

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