Arsenal duo to represent U.S. at World Triathlon competition
September 2, 2010
By John Marx
<i>This article originally appeared in The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus and with the author's consent re-published.</i>
Andrew Witte, middle, and Ria Papageorgiou, right, will represent the United States at the team triathlon competition in September at Budapest, Hungary.
He sits, arms folded, facial expressions changing.
Talk of his 16-month old daughter, Isabella, brings a smile to his face. The mention of his wife, Jessica, also produces a wide grin.
He nods -- proudly -- when he is thanked for his military service and his tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He spent six years as an infantryman in the United States Army.
In a second, Andrew Witte's eyes are steely. He is making a point, serious about his dedication to the national Wounded Warriors project. It is why he -- and training and competition partner Ria Papageorgiou -- run four miles a day, swim more than 700 yards daily and bike countless miles each week.
The two have qualified to represent Team USA at the ITUWorld Triathlon competition Sept. 12, in Budapest, Hungary. Proud at the chance to carry on for the United States, the two Rock Island Arsenal employees did not have an eye on world competition when they began.
"We started training in January because we wanted to be part of the Quad-Cities Triathlon,'' Mr. Witte said. "We did that and we had no idea what it would lead to. We qualified to be Team USA members. It's an honor to represent our country, but it started as a way to raise funds for Wounded Warriors.''
A fundraiser to help with the costs of the trip is Saturday, Aug. 28, from 5:30 to 11 p.m., at the Rock Island VFW, 3715 9th St.
Ms. Papageorgiou, 34, a retired professional baseball umpire, said competing will be a challenge, but she wouldn't pass up the chance to represent her country. Mr. Witte and Ms. Papageorgiou will swim 750 meters, bike a 20K (12.4 miles) and run a 5K (3.1 miles).
"I'm in Italy for work and that makes training a bigger challenge than if I were home,'' Ms. Papageorgiou said by phone earlier this week. "It was a surprise when I learned I qualified and that I would have a chance to compete for my country on an international level.
"This all kind of started when Andrew wanted to raise money for Wounded Warriors and we competed in the Quad-Cities Triathlon,"she said. "It has been a learning experience -- not an easy one by any stretch -- but one that's been good for us.''
For Mr. Witte, competing is more than personal pride. It's about representing his family, those soldiers he shared duty with and his peers at the Rock Island Arsenal.
"When it comes to representing your country, you just can't say no,'' Mr. Witte said. "My military career was the best thing for me and now I can give something back to my country by being part of this team.
"I'm grateful that so many people have thought enough of what we are doing to step forward and help," he said. "That kind of support gets you through that last stretch of running or that final part in the water or when the bike doesn't want to go any faster. The spirit of so many people amazes me.''
"Wearing the uniform of the United States is plenty,'' Witte said. "You want to do well because of all the people you represent.''