Ryan Chartrand

As a triathlete, I’m used to competing in relative obscurity.

The majority of the population doesn’t even know what a triathlon consists of. But for one day a year, at a very special race, all that changes.

That race, of course, is Wildflower.

For one day a year, I actually feel like a celebrity while I swim, bike and run across the legendary Lake San Antonio course in a Cal Poly uniform. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock of triathlons, and I turned in one of my best races ever to finish third in the Collegiate Club Competition.

But even more impressive than my individual finish was our team placing first after finishing second last year.

With more than 80 athletes sporting the green and gold, we easily had the largest team at the race. And we definitely had the strongest fan base with more than 2,000 volunteers lining the course.

If you have never volunteered for Wildflower, do it before you graduate. It will be a wild experience you’ll never forget.

Only at Wildflower will you see runners take hits off beer bongs. Not coincidentally, I’ve also seen people keeled over on the side of the road throwing up.

As if the hills on the run weren’t challenging enough, I was nearly tripped last year by a friend of mine dressed up as a devil. He was wearing nothing but a red thong, a pointy tail, devil horns and was carrying a pitchfork. He was a little overzealous when he saw me and accidentally shoved his pitchfork between my legs, nearly tripping me.

This year I had to hurdle a dog as I ran through one of the aid stations. Then I was groped at the finish line by a friend who was a little too excited to see me after three days of steady drinking.

While I have never participated, I must mention the annual Cal Poly Triathlon Team naked run. This tri-dition dates back many years, and happens every year at Wildflower. It consists of at least 30 people from the team streaking our campsite. People reserve campsites ahead of time near our site just to experience the spectacle.

I’ve had some crazy experiences at Wildflower over the years. The first time I raced the Olympic course, I ended up walking nearly the entire run because of dehydration. It took me more than three and a half hours to finish.

Last year, I crashed on the bike course, ripping skin off my legs, stomach and knuckles. I still finished with a personal-best time in eighth place.

To fully understand my deep connection to this race, you have to understand my history.

This year marked my eighth time competing at Wildflower. I did my first triathlon at the age of 11 when I competed in the Mountain Bike race. This was my fifth year racing the Olympic course.

I have literally grown up at Wildflower. I even missed my junior prom in high school to race Wildflower.

I can remember seeing all the Cal Poly athletes and volunteers as a kid and thinking how awesome it would be to race for Cal Poly in college. My experience at Wildflower made me want come to Cal Poly just to be on the triathlon team.

The bottom line is once you volunteer or race at Wildflower, you will be changed forever.

You will accumulate a whole new batch of stories. I can tell you about it, but until you experience it for yourself, it is difficult to comprehend the gravity of this race.

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