Leon's Triathlon

Blackhawks national anthem singer clears throat for Game 7 at Leon's Triathlon

2014-06-01T22:00:00Z 2014-06-02T10:45:12Z Blackhawks national anthem singer clears throat for Game 7 at Leon's TriathlonJohn Burbridge john.burbridge@nwi.com, (219) 933-3371 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | He provokes greater ovations from Chicago Blackhawk fans than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane combined.

Sometimes they're so resounding, it's a challenge for him to project through them.

"Twenty-two thousand fans can be a lot to overcome," Jim Cornelison said, "but they can always turn up the dial on the volume for me if they have to."

The former Lyric Opera tenor has been performing the Star-Spangled Banner and O Canada national anthems at Blackhawks home games full-time since 2008. He apparently is such a hit with the fans as -- what has become a tradition at the start of Hawks game -- the applause usually reaches its crescendo shortly after "O say can I see ..."

To clear his throat for Game 7 of the NHL Western Conference finals later that night, Cornelison performed the national anthem during the opening ceremonies for Leon's Triathlon Sunday morning at Wolf Lake Park.

"I knew someone (associated with the race), and through them they were able to reach out to me and ask me to sing here," Cornelison said of his first Leon's Triathlon performance, which also drew a rousing response.

Though Cornelison says he likes to think he has something to do with firing up Blackhawk fans before games, he knows the pent-up energy is already bursting at the seams by the time he arrives at the United Center.

"When I step onto the ice, I can tell that they're already fired up," Cornelison said. "They really know how to bring it, and you try to build on that."

* When asked what branch of service he belongs to, Jorge Toledo answered, "The only one ... the United States Marines."

Joking or not, it was still a bold thing to say considering all branches were well represented at Leon's Triathlon.

Toledo, of San Diego, was part of military-based team representing "Wired Athletes" which helps active and retired servicemen adjust to life away from the battlefield.

"If you've experienced combat, doing stuff like this (training and competing in triathlons) is a good way to vent and exercise some demons," Toledo said. "And we do other things to help warriors integrate, recondition ... educate and develop themselves ... that's where we get 'Wired'."

Other members of the Wired triathlon team, which entered Wolf Lake Park on a bus behind a motorcade, included Marines Casey Robinson, of Santa Cruz, Calif., Gabriel Gonzalez, of Miami, Fla., Justin Wess, of Hubbart, Ohio, and Michigan native Chris Smith; sailor Joe Jackson, of Modesto, Calif.; and civilian Gary Hanson, who trained cyclists for the Wounded Warrior team before co-founding Wired.

"This is also a good way to network with fellow warriors back home," Toledo said. "Maybe help someone find a job, or to communicate with someone who knows what it's like to come back home."

* There were a couple of wrinkles added to this year's race. One was changes in the course, in particular the final running leg which utilized the park's new boardwalk trail that encircles the lake and traverses over it in some sections near the Indiana Toll Road.

Also this year, Leon's Triathlon is the first leg of the Chicagoland Tri Series, which continues with the ITU World Triathlon Chicago on June 27-29, and the Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 24.

The middle race is the only United States stop in the ITU (International Triathlon Union) series.

"Next year, the ITU is going to hold its World Championships in Chicago," said Elizabeth Brackett, who was recruited by the ITU to help promote its lone U.S. race.

"Oh, I'm going to compete at it," said Brackett, of Chicago, who has competed in triathlons in Australia, New Zealand, Hungary and China.

Brackett is still formidable at 73 years old. She first started running triathlons when she was in her 50's.

"I can't say I'm getting much faster," Brackett said, "but somehow I continue to win my age group."

If anything, Brackett can be a life-long inspiration for Braxton Bokos, of Oak Brook. Though verification has yet to be confirmed, at 9-years-old, Braxton just may be the youngest person ever to complete a international-distance triathlon.

"It was fun," said Braxton, who finished in just over 3 hours and 15 minutes. "The easiest part for me was the swim ... I know adults usually hate the swim, but I love swimming.

"The bike part was tough, but I got a lot of encouragement on the course with people saying to me, 'You got this! Keep it up!'

"That was very nice of them."

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Al Hamnik

Al Hamnik

Al Hamnik has been a reporter and columnist in Northwest Indiana for 42 years and is a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, as well as a winner of the Indiana sportswriter of the year award, an IHSAA media award winner, a Corky Lamm Award winner and a three-time HSPA winner.

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