CAPE MAY - Brandon Hontz ran away with the Cape May SuperAthalon championship last Monday. - He also rowed and swam away with it.

The 24-year-old Avalon lifeguard grabbed a huge lead in the opening leg of the race - a triathlon consisting of a 2.3-mile run, 1.5-mile row, and quarter-mile swim - and maintained his advantage en route to a convincing victory in the 41st edition of one of the area's most unique competitions.

"I did this race in 2018 and wound up third," Hontz said. "I was in the lead after the run in that one, too, but I struggled in the row because it was my first time in a boat. I made sure I got some practice in with rowing this time."

Hontz, who is in his fourth season with the Avalon Beach Patrol, finished in 45 minutes, 12 seconds.  He became the second winner from Avalon, joining five-time champion Shane McGrath (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010-11).  Wildwood's Patrick Clemons, 43 years old, finished second for the third time in 46:14, followed by three-time defending champion Rob Moran of host Cape May placed third in 47:37.

Moran, who also won in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021 - there was no race in 2020 or last year - was attempting to tie McGrath for the second-most victories in the SuperAthalon. Wildwood Crest's Bic Murphy (1993-94, '96-'98, 2001, '03, '05) won it an incredible eight times in a 13-year span:

"I gave it a good shot, but those guys (Hontz and Clemons) were really gunning for it," Moran said. "I was in seventh place after the run and made up some ground in the row, but I was a little tired after that and couldn't catch them in the swim."

Moran's fatigue was understandable, considering he hasn't been getting a lot of sleep lately.  Moran and his wife, Stephanie, have a one-month-old daughter (Genevieve). Their son, Matthew, is 2 1/2.  His children were there at the finish line waiting for him.

Clemons' 2-year-old daughter, Summer, was also at the finish line waiting for him and after the race, Clemons immediately scooped her up for a celebratory hug.

Photo by Dave Weinberg
Photo by Dave Weinberg

"Second place three times in a row," he said with a shrug. "I finally beat Rob and it figures someone else would have a great race. (Hontz) is 20 years younger than me and he's a beast."

Hontz, who ran the mile for the Nittany Lions, quickly separated himself from the pack during the run on Beach Avenue from the Cove to Poverty Beach. He was two blocks ahead after the first mile and steadily increased the lead.

Photo by Dave Weinberg
Photo by Dave Weinberg

Clemons, who has been a lifeguard in the Wildwood area and South Florida for 25 years, managed to close the distance a tad during the row, as did Moran.

In past years, the swim has sometimes made a huge difference in the outcome because of the swift current that runs parallel to the shore.  In 2021, for example, Moran was in third place entering the water, but wound up winning because the two swimmers ahead of him missed the buoy and were unable to get backtrack to get around it.

Having done the race before helped Hontz with current events. He entered the ocean next approximately 50 yards left of the buoy, hugged the jetty for as long as possible, and continued to swim straight out instead of angling toward the turnaround, letting the tide sweep him toward the marker.

"I was a swimmer in high school (in West Chester, Pennsylvania), so figured if I had the lead after the row, I had a chance to hold the other guys off," Hontz said. "I stuck as close to the jetty as I could, but even then I almost missed the buoy. I was getting nervous, but I barely made it around it."

The race featured a mix of veterans and newcomers who were drawn to the challenge.

At 43, Clemons was the oldest competitor, followed by Ventnor's Greg Smith (42), Moran (34), and Longport's Daniel Gordan (33). The field also featured two teenagers: Upper Township's Jim Nilson (18) and Sea Girt's Will Hefernan (19).

Gordan, who is a member of the United States Coast Guard reserves in Cape May, finished seventh as a first-timer. He celebrated with a beer and hugs from his two children.

"It was awesome," Gordan said. "I felt blessed and happy to be able to do it with so many great competitors. I hope I get to do it again next year."

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