Editor's note: The story has been updated to reflect that Amy Holcomb was the 2016 individual female champion.
Five years had passed since Suzy El-Attar and her family last participated in the MAC Dash Sprint Triathlon
Ten years ago, El-Attar served as the inaugural race director for the sprint triathlon event that initially started just months after the Madras Aquatic Center's grand opening.
At the start, El-Attar said the event was "pretty unknown." But after it finished, the sense among organizers was that they were onto something. Now that the MAC Dash is celebrating its 10th anniversary, it appears they were right.
"I remember when it was over, it was (this feeling of), 'We did it,'" she said. "We had a real authentic race … I also remember people coming from out of town, the pool wasn't even a year old and you just saw mountains everywhere. Everybody was like, 'This is incredible, just an incredible setting to do a race.'"
El-Attar, along with her husband Dave Evans, and children Samira, 14, and Ben, 17, have since moved to Seattle, but returned to celebrate the 10th anniversary Saturday morning of an event that has become a staple in the Madras community each September, and an important fundraiser for the Madras swim and water polo teams.
"I have a really good sense of accomplishment, like we've done something really good and built a little bit of a legacy here," El-Attar said.
Scott Rowles, 32, won the men's individual triathlon, which includes a 500-yard swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3-mile run, in 57 minutes, 38 seconds. Jamie Hurd, 35, was the top female finisher with a time of 1:08:28, and bested last year's champion, Amy Holcomb, who finished second in 1:11:04.
In the Middle MAC Dash, a new event added this year for kids 14 and under that simulates a triathlon with a 100-yard swim, 2-mile bike ride and 1-mile run, Elijah McCourtney, 14, was the first overall to finish in 19:22. The top girl finisher, Mylaena Norton, 9, wasn't far behind, setting a time of 19:30. All combined, 13 kids competed in the first-ever Middle MAC Dash.
The 10th annual event faced a very real possibility of being canceled. In the week leading up to the race, wildfire smoke created unhealthy air quality throughout Oregon, including Madras.
"We had some concerns at the beginning of the week because of the air quality," Harris said. "I know more about air quality than I ever thought I would know in my life."
The National Weather Service reported that the Air Quality Index would improve throughout the week, so organizers held off until Friday morning before making the decision to continue the event as planned. They stipulated that if the AQI rose to 150 or above, it would be canceled. Saturday morning, however, the AQI hovered in the moderate range, between 70 and 75, allowing competitors to race in favorable conditions.
"We thought about canceling, but we really wanted to give our sponsors and athletes until the very last minute to see if things were going to change," Harris said. "We were holding out as long as we could."
Aside from those who participate annually from Jefferson County and beyond in Central Oregon, the MAC Dash has also consistently drawn people from elsewhere in the state.
Vern Ohman, 72, of Medford, clocked a time of 1:39:31 and was one of three males over the age of 70 to complete the individual triathlon this year. 2017 marked his sixth year competing in Madras, where his daughter and grandchildren, who participate in the Mini MAC Dash, reside.
"This is the only triathlon event that I've done," Ohman said. "Of the three events, the swimming, I'm glad it's first so I can get that out of the way ... I am very elated when I get out of the pool."
Harris and fellow organizers say they are pleased with current participation numbers, which have held steady in the last few years. They are continuing to think up new ideas in hopes of increasing participation, but also continue to encourage more people, especially within Madras, to come out and support the event.
"Of course we still want to grow it," Harris said. "I don't know what we need to do, but we're going to start brainstorming … But it's still an awesome event with the amount of people we have. We're just grateful for the people who do come out."