Two athletes with strong ties to Klickitat County will be competing in the 2015 Pan American Games, which get under way tomorrow in Toronto, Ontario.
Erin Jones, who grew up in White Salmon but now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., will be taking part in the women’s triathlon on Saturday, July 11 (8 a.m. PST).
Spencer Paxson, formerly of Trout Lake but now of Bellingham, races Sun-day, July 12, in the men’s mountain bike cross country event (11 a.m. PST).
The Enterprise caught up with Jones on Monday, the day before she was to depart for Toronto.
“I’m so excited. The Pan American Games is such an amazing opportunity,” Jones wrote in an e-mail. “It is the next biggest major games beside the Olympics. I’m so fortunate and humbled to have been selected to represent Team USA.”
Paxson, likewise, was humbled by being one of two riders selected to compete for Team USA.
“Having the opportunity to join Team USA for the Pan Am Games is a huge honor and definitely marks a special notch in my racing career,” Paxson said in an e-mail to Jennifer Siefried of the Bellingham Herald.
Jones, 24, has her sights set on qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. She said her goal for the Pan Am Games is two win a gold medal individually, and support her teammates in their endeavors to bring home medals.
“These are some of the best women triathletes in the world so it will be a tough race,” Jones noted. “This is just another step in the right direction for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Team USA has three spots for the Olympics, and the American women are ranked 1, 2, and 5 in the world.”
Paxson, 30, has been racing mountain bikes for 15 years (the last five representing the Kona Bicycle Company).
He told the Herald that the Pan Am Games were a goal he had in his sights. To get the nod over other top-ranking cyclists, Paxson said it means a rider has had significant recent success in international competitions, such as the World Cup and World Championships. Paxson has competed in both regularly since 2011, and recently finished second in the seven-day B.C. Bike Race, after overcoming a missed turn on day two of the challenge that dropped him from first to 16th.
“Cycling is a core part of who I am,” Paxson wrote. “I got into it when I was about 12, and over the years the endeavor has formed much of my approach to life.”
The Cross Country Mountain Bike Race will feature 30 elite racers — a smaller field than Paxson’s used to in international competitions. As a result, Paxson noted, it should be a wide-open and extremely competitive race.
“I won’t always be competitive, but right now I appreciate how racing offers a fun proxy to real life,” Paxson wrote.
The Pan Am Games, like the Olympics, take place every four years. They are the third largest international multi-sport games. This is the first time Toronto has hosted the games.
This year, some 7,000 athletes will compete in 36 sports from July 10-24.
Jones, for her part, is looking to make the most of her chance to compete with her sport’s top-ranked athletes.
“I’m young and any opportunity I get to race with the best, I’ll take,” she wrote. “I’m so happy to gain this experience and put it all on the line for Team USA when the day comes.