JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - As he swam through the river, Bruce Antonowicz could have sworn he was touching bottom with his strokes. Whenever his head came out of the water, he saw something he never had witnessed in any other triathlon.

"I'm like, 'Are they walking''" said Antonowicz of the other triathletes. "I'm like, 'This is crazy.'"

Sure enough, the shallow waters had allowed others to turn the Vineman Half Ironman in Sonoma County, Calif., July 18 into a walk-bike-run. But Antonowicz, the assistant aquatics coordinator at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, couldn't really abandon swimming. Could he'

"I'm gaining on them," said Antonowicz, "so I'm figuring maybe I'll just keep swimming."

Good idea. Sticking to his original plan, Antonowicz placed sixth in the 35 to 39 age group and 43rd overall among 2,200 competitors. He finished the Half Ironman in 4 hours, 31 minutes, 34 seconds. That performance qualified Antonowicz for the Half Ironman world championship, to be held in November in Clearwater, Fla.

Any other time, Antonowicz would be happy to accept that invitation. This year, however, the 37-year-old has an even bigger date on his calendar. On Oct. 9, he'll be in Kona, Hawaii, to compete in his sport's ultimate event: the 2010 Ironman World Championship.

"I'd rather put more time and effort into Kona and not go to Clearwater," Antonowicz said. "I'll save it for another year."

The 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound Antonowicz had qualified for Kona last November at Ironman Arizona, where he completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run in an overall time of 9 hours, 26 minutes, 25 seconds. He beat the qualifying time by less than 3 minutes.

After that effort, Antonowicz took some time off from competition - almost too much time. His first triathlon of the 2010 season, the Oliver Half Iron in Canada, was June 5. Though he placed seventh in his age group and 23rd overall, he was unhappy with the performance.

"I didn't feel like I had a really good race there," Antonowicz said. "I just felt flat, and I was a little bit frustrated with myself. It wasn't where I thought I should be."

Antonowicz followed up by winning both the Cascades Edge and Ocean Shores Olympic-distance triathlons before nearly going for a walk in that river at Vineman.

"I've raced more this season than I normally do," Antonowicz said. "I feel like I'm getting into good form."

Too bad the same can't be said for his racing bike, which has a crack in its titanium frame. While it's being repaired, Antonowicz will train and race on a borrowed ride.

"It's not perfect, but it's ... as close as I'm going to get for a temporary solution," Antonowicz said. "It's better than no solution. I wanted to have (my bike back) for Kona, most importantly."

His training includes as much as 20,000 meters of swimming, 200 miles of cycling and 40 miles of running per week. The Lake Stevens Triathlon and Ironman Canada are on Antonowicz's schedule for August, but those races, like all the others this year, are stepping stones to Hawaii.

"If I set a goal," said Antonowicz, "I mean, I'm shooting for that goal, not necessarily what others are doing around me."

Spoken like a man who would rather swim than walk.

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.