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Joe Coito Takes Off Running as Director of Santa Barbara Triathlon

In his 16-year tenure, he has more than doubled the number of race participants and added a fundraising component for local nonprofits

Taking a passion and making it a profession happens only for a lucky few. Joe Coito has done it. Athletics is where he gained self-esteem growing up, and he’s been a lifelong lover of sports in every form. For more than 15 years, he has put his passion for sports to work as owner/director of the Santa Barbara Triathlon.

Coito is warm and friendly from the first hello in his hillside home-office. A tall, lanky guy, he prefers to spend his time playing basketball and tennis over the run-bike-swim of his business — the Santa Barbara Triathlon — which he has steadily built into a world-respected event that draws crowds of all ages and fitness levels.

Originally from Lodi, Coito attended San Diego State University for a degree in finance. With a love of the ocean, he followed a friend to Santa Barbara and decided to make it home. His finance degree in hand, Coito took a six-year job with Santa Barbara Bank & Trust as a loan reviewer.

He began working nights and weekends on the Santa Barbara Triathlon with then-owner Jamie Allison. He learned the ropes and eventually took over when she decided to move on in 1994. He has grown the event from 700 to 2,000 annual participants, a number he says is ideal to manage.

The triathlon pulls 60 percent of its participants from the communities of Santa Barbara and Ventura, but people also come largely from Los Angeles, San Francisco and even internationally.

“Santa Barbara is such a desirable travel destination that we always have some triathletes make a vacation here around competing in the event,” Coito said.

He says the long course of the Santa Barbara Triathlon is comparable with a half-Ironman when the Pacific Ocean swim and bike terrain are factored in. Regardless, he has decidedly geared the event for the average athlete and even welcomes beginners.

He said a rise in local women’s training clubs inspired him to add a women’s-only sprint race option in 2004. He credits two organizations — Moms in Motion and Momentum for Life — for creating a sizable local female market for the event.

Coito says he has made several changes to the triathlon over the years. In addition to the women’s-only sprint race, there is a parent and child division, which attracts kids as young as age 7.

“I want this to be a community event,” he said, “so we have found various ways to open it up and to be inclusive.”

There’s also a charity component, which helps raise funds for local nonprofit organizations with incentives to participants. This year’s benefiting charity is the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, which provides a host of services and support to families with children living with cancer.

All of the funds raised through the parallel campaign go to the foundation. In the 10 years since Coito added the fundraising component to the triathlon, $400,000 has gone to local nonprofit groups.

The triathlon depends largely on the support of more than 400 volunteers throughout the three-day event. They help with everything from registration, timing and crowd control, to handing out water on the course. The event ends at East Beach with an emcee announcing incoming runners, and various health and fitness vendors hosting booths.

There are three courses available for sign-up: the long course, which includes a one-mile swim, 34-mile bike ride and 10-mile run; the co-ed sprint course, which is made up of a 500-yard swim, six-mile bike bike and two-mile run. The sprint course also happens as a women’s-only event.

“No one ever regrets doing the triathlon,” Coito said. “Once they drink the Kool-Aid, they keep coming back.”

He emphasizes that the focus is on competing vs. winning, so everyone performs at his or her own level.

Click here to register for the event, which runs Aug. 27-29. To volunteer, call Sherry Stimatz at 805.682.1634.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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