For many triathlon participants, winning is not the ultimate goal. Completing the three demanding regimens can provide plenty of satisfaction.
However, there is a higher motivation for some. It is not enough for them to just compete. They are there to help those with needs reach the finish line.
When the 12th annual Publix Grandman Triathlon takes place in Fairhope June 4, a special group of competitors will be present. They will be with myTeam Triumph: Southern Alabama.
“This is an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who would normally not be able to experience events such as triathlons or road races,” said Hanlon Walsh of Mobile Baykeeper, one of the Grandman’s main organizers.
Clint Martin of Fairhope has competed in previous triathlons, including the 2013 Grandman. It was learning of the exploits of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, that changed his approach to the races. Despite the fact that Rick Hoyt suffers from cerebral palsy, he and his father have used a specially designed tandem bike and wheelchair to compete in 255 triathlons, 32 Boston Marathons and six Ironman triathlons.
“That story inspired me,” Martin said. “I reached out to the Hoyts’ foundation and said I wanted to do something in South Alabama. That is how I learned about myTeam Triumph.”
The international group has 31 chapters in the United States. Martin started the local nonprofit group and began looking for volunteers to help. Those in the program are known as Captains (the participants) and Angels (the assistants). A different Angel helps with each phase of the race.
At last year’s Grandman, Martin started the swimming section of the race by pulling a boat that carried the Captain and an Angel. Once on land, the Captain’s father took over for the bicycle ride. A family friend then stepped in to complete the run with the Captain.
“I wish you could have seen the impact they had at last year’s race,” Justine Herlihy, who also works with Baykeeper, said. “There was nothing more empowering than watching them cross the finish line. It was cheers and tears.”
The Grandman is the largest fundraiser of the year for Mobile Baykeeper, a nonprofit environmental group working to preserve and protect the Mobile Bay watershed. Another beneficiary has been the Gulf Coast Area Triathletes.
“After last year, Mobile Baykeeper knew they wanted to invest some of the proceeds back to myTeam Triumph’s mission,” Herlihy said. “The Grandman event supports some really good causes.”
“We are very humbled and honored by being selected,” Martin said. “The triathlon conversion chairs cost $3,500. We have three of them, and that is why we are able to have three teams this year.”
After the competitors finish the water segment, they are transported to the conversion chair that is pulled behind a bike. Once they get to the run, a wheel is added to the front of the chair and it is pushed down the road.
“We don’t have the equipment to handle any more Captains,” Martin said. “We have some corporate sponsors stepping in, so we hope to add more teams next year.”
While this will only be the group’s second triathlon, they have competed in the First Light half-marathon, the Joe Cain 5K race and the Spring Fever Chase 10K run. They will take a break after the Grandman and pick up some small races in the fall before concluding with the Senior Bowl 10K in November.
Besides the Angels in the race, several other volunteers are present to provide assistance should an emergency arise. Because of the importance of the mission, Martin has 90 people ready to help.
“People go to a race and see what we do, and they want to be a part,” Martin said. “Once they get involved, all their race results take a back seat. They want to help someone else who would normally never participate.”
With additional funding, Martin wants to get more people in the races.
“It is not limited to children,” he said. “We have had Captains up to 60 years old. I had one person who called and wanted to push his 90-year-old grandmother in the race. We want to help so many different people with so many different disabilities. There have been no cases where we had to say ‘no.’ We find a way to make it happen.”
Grand day in Fairhope
Mobile Baykeeper will turn 20 years old next year, and it has been a part of the Grandman since the beginning. Casi Callaway, Baykeeper’s executive director, has served as the race director each year.
“Our mission is clean water, clean air and a healthy community,” Walsh said. “This event highlights all three.”
The actual race will begin that Saturday at 7 a.m. The triathlon starts with a dive off the Fairhope Municipal Pier and a one-third-mile swim back to shore. Next is an 18-mile bicycle course that goes past the Grand Hotel (the inspiration for the event’s name). Finally there is a 3.1K run along the bay. A post-race party will follow at the Fairhope Pier.
The day before the Grandman, from 4 to 7 p.m., a health and fitness expo is planned at Fairhope Pier. There will be vendors for bicycles, running and swimming offering apparel and nutrition tips. During the last hour, special training for first-time participants will help them set up their bikes and learn what gears to use on the course.
Walsh said besides individual entries, people who do not want to do all three events could join as a team. “One can do each segment, which makes it a great way to have some fun,” he said.
The race has continued to grow over the years, and last year had 775 participants. When you add in the volunteers with families and friends, an estimated 2,500 spectators came to the Grandman.
“It is a big money-making weekend for Fairhope,” Herlihy said. “The race goes through some of the most beautiful areas of the city. A lot of families bring the kids and make a weekend of it.”