(pre race) photo shows Bob Gebbie, John J. (Rocky) McManus, Mike Ellis, and Don Debienne.



This was one of those classic events to sort out just who had bragging rights as the fittest man of the RMC Class of ’76. There were three contenders for that crown way out west in British Columbia, and they, at least, felt it most unlikely that anyone east of the Rockies or south of the 49th parallel could challenge them, so they would fight it out amongst themselves.

First there was John J. (Rocky) McManus, 10973, naval aviator, skilled in navigating helicopters, recently retired from the Regular Forces, but joined the Reserve Forces to assist in the provision of air security for the 2010 Winter Olympics. A formidable swimmer as a cadet, McManus has kept up his swimming at a very high level, competing regularly over the years in Masters swimming competitions as his postings would allow. Recently, Rocky has also been doing serious training on the bike and the run. Mentored by his 78 year old running companion, he has done well in running races in the Victoria area, and has simultaneously built up both speed and endurance on a fancy and expensive bicycle he acquired from former world Ironman triathlon champion Peter Reid.

Don Debienne, 11061, is an experienced cyclist, who has been in the electrical utility game since 1980, and supplying electricity to the southern part of BC for many years when he is not skiing the back country or backpacking on the trails. As VP of Power Supply and Strategic Planning for FORTIS BC he has taken special care of the wineries of the Okanagan Valley and the Columbia Brewing Company in Creston which brews Kokanee beer. In the last few years, motivated by trying to keep up with his new partner, Laurelee, who is an expert triathlete and holds the record for the women’s 50-54 age group at Ironman Canada, Don has taken up running and swimming seriously. Don is on the cusp of retirement, happy and healthy, and enjoying life to the max in Kelowna, BC.

Bob Gebbie, 11075, served 25 years in the navy after graduating from RRMC/RMC in 1976 and then settled in Victoria where he joined the BC Provincial Government where he is currently a Director of Information Protection. Bob and his wife Carolyn caught the triathlon bug big time about 10 years ago and they have travelled the world doing Ironman and Olympic distance triathlons, including age group world championships. They will be competing in Australia this September. While Bob, whose strength in the triathlon is his running ability, coaches the triathlon club at the Victoria YM/YWCA, Carolyn is a nationally certified triathlon coach and runs a coaching business (carolyngebbie.com).

The venue for the competition between these three, the swimmer, the cyclist, and the runner, was the BC Provincial Triathlon championships held at Penticton BC on July 19th. All three were competing in the Men’s 55-59 age group in which there were 18 competitors.

Normally, Okanagan Lake at Penticton is calm and peaceful at 7 AM on a summer morning, making the cool clear waters very pleasant for swimming, but on July 19th strong breezes from the north had kicked up a two-foot chop which was sending whitecaps in to the beach. The race began with a mass start, with all competitors running into the water, to swim 750 meters parallel to the shore, turn around a buoy, and swim the 750 meters back to the starting point. The waves coming in from the lake made the swim difficult for everyone, as they upset the rhythm, and interfered with breathing when the swimmer tried to take a breath on the windward side and the wind whipped water into his/her face. These difficult conditions seem to affect weaker swimmers more than the strong, fast, powerful swimmers. Rocky McManus completed the swim in 24 minutes, in 22nd place overall, and gained a 5 minute lead on Don Debienne and almost 8 minutes on Gebbie.

The bike course is a challenging ride, with over 1500 feet of climbing in its 40 Km length. It climbs out of Penticton to the Naramata Bench, and the outbound leg has a lot of uphills and downhills to a turnaround 20 Km from town. There are spectacular views of Okanagan Lake along this road where the orchards are rapidly being transformed into vineyards. Only about 3 minutes separated our contestants on the bike: Don was under 1H16 for the fastest ride of the three, good for 57th overall in the race, Bob rode 1H17, and Rocky 1H19, so at the start of the final segment of the competition, a 10 Km run, McManus had a 1 minute 30 second lead over Debienne, and a 4 minute 40 second lead over Gebbie. Would it be enough? Running is Gebbie’s strength.

The run course divides into sections by the mile, as the first mile is flat along the lake, the second mile involves a 400 foot climb to the west bench mesa, and the third mile is rolling up and down along the bench; then a turnaround and back over the same ground to the finish. All three of the Class of ‘76ers came together near the halfway point of the run, and the other two knew that Gebbie had them beaten. Rocky only just beat Don for second place by 13 seconds as Rocky suffered a cramp about a mile from the finish and was unable to even walk until Don caught up to him, and then suddenly he was able to move again. Bob ran under 44 minutes for the 40th best time overall, Don’s time was 51.5 min and John ran 52:50

The finishing times were: Gebbie 2H34.40, McManus 2H39.03, Debienne 2H39.16, which placed them 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, respectively in their age-group. I’m sure these guys will race against each other again, but for this time at least Bob the runner proved superior.

A fourth ex-cadet, Mike Ellis, 4670, from the Class of ’60, a retiree enjoying life in Victoria, competed in the event as well, winning the Men’s 70+ category in 3H09.19. You will note from the photos that Ellis was there at the start but his younger companions had left for a beer before he finished, so he didn’t make the post race photo.


(post race) photo shows, from left to right, Debienne, Gebbie and McManus.

m.ellis@shaw.ca     gebbie@shaw.ca don.debienne@shaw.ca jmcmanus@jmcmanus.com

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