An interview with Candy Panigutti of Without Limits
By Dana Willett
Okay, not entirely naked . . . half-naked firefighters working aid stations have become a trademark of the Without Limits women-only events (which benefit the fire department). And the story about the human turn buoys? Well, keep reading – we have the full scoop from insider Candy Panigutti, the steadying rudder to brothers Lance & Tony Panigutti, who, with Tony’s wife Lindsey, make up the Without Limits team.
Started in 2006 with three sprint tri’s at Union Reservoir in Longmont, Without Limits Productions from the beginning has set out to be affordable and accessible. Lance Panigutti, a former professional triathlete, wanted to start a race series that was “all about essentially the people who pay the pros’ salaries,” according to sister Candy Panigutti.
Tony, the oldest sibling, had been a mortgage broker before he joined Lance in the endeavor. The “middle sister” of the three, Candy helped her brothers on the weekends, balancing that with a full-time career as a high school biology teacher. She says it was exhausting and rewarding, packing and hauling all the gear, race preparations, packet pickup, the marathon that was race day. “I’ve never been so exhausted. I’ve done half Ironmans, and I’ve never been so exhausted,” she recalls. A labor of love, it was never a burden. “At the beginning I got to be part of making their dream come true,” she says. “That’s where I get a lot of my joy and satisfaction – seeing them become so successful so quickly, and to be a part of that.”
That same year Candy started the Aquaman race series at Cherry Creek Reservoir, and Lance and Tony helped her. She recalls, “I knew when I started Aquaman that the ones who would help me, who I could count on, would be my brothers.” The origin of the name hints at some of the sibling teasing . . . “I have to thank Lance for that,” Candy recalls. “The name came from the HBO Series ‘Entourage,’ when Vince was filming the Aquaman movie. We were watching before heading to Water World. Lance suggested the name, and it just stuck.”
At the time, they didn’t realize Lance would become the actual “Aquaman.” Candy retells the story, “Lance went out to set the buoy anchors, and we were ready to start. Lance and Tony are out there in a boat guiding kayaks, and then I see Tony in the boat but not Lance. I didn’t think too much of it, and worked on getting everyone started. I was still looking for Lance – was he on a paddle board? I couldn’t find him. All my racers come in after the swim, and then Lance comes in at the end, and he’s soaking wet. I asked him, ‘Where were you?’ And it turns out Lance and Tony saw the buoy break off the weight holding it down, and Tony said, ‘Well, who wants to swim? You or me?’ And that's when Lance dove overboard. There wasn’t enough rope to re-tie it. So Lance held the buoy in one hand and the weight in the other hand, and tread water for an entire hour during the event. That’s commitment.”
That commitment, and trust, is what makes the team work so well together. Candy says, “It means I know you’re going to be there to support me for whatever happens. It’s the best way to work.”
That trust helped Candy make a career change a year ago.
In 2012 Candy became an official part time employee of Without Limits (continuing to teach part time in Littleton). “It actually worked out really well,” she says. “I was looking for something fresh, trying to avoid burnout in teaching. I didn’t want to quit, just dial it back. Tony and Lance couldn’t keep growing without a little help. We sat down and met and it all came together and worked out.” She continues, laughing, “I knew my bosses going in, and I loved the job already.”
The guiding principle of the Panigutti family, both personally and professionally, seems to be “support.” Support of the sport of triathlon. Support of the “everyman” racers out there, who are just trying to be healthy and have a good time. Support of one another, always.
Candy says the glue behind her close-knit relationships with her brothers is a lifetime of training from their mother. She reflects, “I think I’d have to thank our mother growing up. She always made sure no matter what we were doing, we were supporting each other. If Tony was at a BMX race, we had to go and support him. If I had a gymnastics meet, he had to turn around and support me. We were used to always supporting each other. The whole mind set started when we were very young.”
The Panigutti parents continue to be a big part of the Without Limits philosophy, and crew. Whenever mom and dad visit from North Carolina, they not only dole out sage advice to their offspring, but are immediately put to work. “Tony and I go to our parents for business advice, and when they come to visit they know they are going to be put to work. They jump right in and ask, ‘What are we going to be doing?’ My mom loves seeing all of us work together – it’s a dream of hers that we all stay so close.” And, the family circle has grown, as Tony’s wife Lindsey has become an integral part of the team, as well as Candy’s boyfriend.
Oh, and those “naked” aid station workers? Those are the calendar firemen, whom Candy recruits each year for the TriBella and Outdoor Divas triathlons. “It all started when I kept joking with Lance that if you wanted to know all about women’s races, ask what women want,” Candy says laughingly. “I told him it would be great to have topless firemen out there to spray the women down. Lance kind of laughed it off, but then he got the contact for the calendar firefighters, and they were out there at our first women’s event. They just wore their fire pants, and it was a huge success. They came out of the goodness of their hearts; we make a donation to the firefighters and it goes toward the University of Colorado burn center for children, so it works as a fundraiser for them.”
She continues, “That’s how we work. We decide we’re going to go all the way with something, or not go at all.”
What’s next for WOL? Likely nothing too large scale, though the unique nature of the events will continue. “I think WOL is going to continue to expand, and continue to add some more races, maybe in areas outside Colorado,” Candy predicts. “We’re already in Massachusetts and North Carolina, and some of those races can expand.” Most likely? The existing races will sell out more quickly, and continue along the trajectory of success.
But a “definite” on Candy’s list is continuing the tradition of passionate work, for all the right reasons. “Between helping Lance and Tony, and running Aquaman, I’m doing something I really love. I love working with volunteers and meeting athletes, and hearing their stories. It often brings me to tears – I’ll hear someone’s story at packet pick-up, and then be there at the finish line as they cross, and it’s incredibly touching. I love being able to be there and work one-on-one with people. It’s really enjoyable and very rewarding. And it’s great to be able to hang out with my brothers; it’s been a great way to get to know them on a different level than when we were growing up. I love it.”
For more information visit the Without Limits web site.
Have a story idea or local triathlon news to report? Email Dana Willett.