MISSOULA — Matt Seeley's weekend was a busy one.
On Saturday afternoon, Seeley was on the field at Missoula County Stadium coaching Polson High School's distance team during the MCPS Invite track & field meet.
On Sunday, Seeley had a chance to step into the competitor's shoes himself as he raced in the 31st annual Grizzly Triathlon. It was the first time in four years Seeley has competed in the triathlon, but that didn't matter as he emerged victorious on what was an overcast and windy day.
"I've done this race for many, many years and it's always got it's new challenges every year," Seeley said. "It was a fun year. I was just happy to be here.
"It's fun to have that much going on and trying and trying to survive (Saturday) and not use too much energy coaching and then come out. Luckily we didn't get soaked either day so that makes a difference."
The win was Seeley's sixth overall in his 19 tries at the Grizzly Triathlon and his first since 2004. The 48-year-old said different kinds of injuries have made it harder for him to race consistently over the past few years but after feeling good lately, he thought he'd give it another shot.
Beginning in the pool, Seeley emerged second behind Joel Bischoff of Great Falls. The biking portion was next, and Seeley said that leg of the triathlon is his strength. As athletes rode out toward Bonner with a tailwind, that is where Seeley caught up to Bischoff before turning around and facing a furious headwind in Hellgate Canyon on the way back into Missoula.
And Seeley, who used to race professionally as a triathlete back in the 1990s, knew exactly how to counteract the weather.
"Having ridden in hundreds and hundreds of triathlons in my career, I kind of know how to play different things," Seeley said. "I know going out with a tailwind that that's the time where it's easy to back off a little and not go as hard as you need to so I knew I needed to really push the tailwind section and crank it up as fast as I could go."
Seeley lives in Polson while coaching the high school cross country and track distance teams. He also teaches math at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo. Seeley said he wasn't originally planning to race, but his 16-year-old daughter Gwen competed in the Grizzly Triathlon for the first time in her life.
"That kind of sealed it for me that I kind of wanted to come out and do it with her," Seeley said. "It's special and as my girls get older I'm going to have the chance to race with them a little bit. Every chance I get is pretty cool. Hopefully they'll want to carry the torch as they get older and do these kinds of events.
"I still love getting out and doing it when I can and it's neat to be able to compete and be part of a local event."
Scarlet Kaplan was the victor in the women's race. Kaplan hails from Arlee and graduated from Hellgate in 2014, but recently moved away to Boulder, Colorado, for college where she competed for the University of Colorado's triathlon club. She moved back to Montana in January and currently lives in Whitefish.
Both Kaplan and Seeley started in the final heat of the day in the elite division.
"Pretty much from last year until now I haven't really been training that much so it was kind of a chill race and the focus was to try and get through it," Kaplan said. "I like it when the weather is a little bad because it gives me a little bit more of a challenge than just focusing on just going as hard as possible."
Similar to Seeley, Kaplan said she utilized the tailwind on the biking route but also attacked the headwind as hard as she could especially at the end to gain an advantage.
Kaplan said her legs were tired entering the final stretch of the race which is running along the Kim Williams Nature Trail and Smokejumpers' Trail along Mount Sentinel, but experience in this triathlon made it easy to weather.
"I've done this race a lot," she said. "I used to train on this course before college so I'm pretty familiar with it so I knew what was coming.
"It's nice to come back here especially since the last time I did this I was in pretty good shape because I was going into my senior year of high school. I tried my hardest so that's all that matters."
The win was Kaplan's first overall victory though she's had plenty of success before. She won the women's 14-19 age group four times as she was growing up and competing, including in 2014, the last time she competed in the Grizzly.
Now in Whitefish, she's a head coach for the Wave Ryders Swim Club. And winning Sunday's race despite not much training of late will be something she uses to motivate her athletes through their own competitions.
"It's nice to be able to relate to them, especially when they felt like they didn't have any training," Kaplan said. "If going into state they felt they had too much taper, I can always be like, 'Well, I've been in your shoes.' When it's race day you just have to go no matter what."