Saturday, January 7, 2017


No offense to those of you packing light sabers or wearing Chewbacca pj's as we speak, but I've never personally seen any of the Star Wars movies.

Crazy, I know.

I am, however, familiar with the concept of the "prequel," and today Utah Tri Buzz proudly presents a PREQUEL of our own...

A couple weeks ago we interviewed Dan Aamodt, current owner of TriUtah, as part of our Respect the RD! series. 

Now it's time to turn the clock back to Utah triathlon pioneers John Anderson & Chris Bowerbank, who we thank immensely for their time.

We consider this a must read for all Utah triathletes past & present!

From your perspective, can you give us a brief history of triathlon in Utah, as well as how TriUtah came to be?

Chris arrived in Utah in 1996 and those early days of triathlon were pioneered by Richard Barnum-Reece, the original DinoTri, Yuba Triathlon (Mark Warner), and the Utah Summer Games Triathlon. Chris participated in a few "Richard races" which were local sprint triathlons at venues like the Bountiful Bubble, Tooele, and the South Jordan outdoor pool. As neighbors, Chris Bowerbank and John Anderson got talking about the races. John mentioned that he had organized a 5k & 10k several years earlier as an Eagle Scout project. That got us thinking that it would be "fun" to put on our own triathlon. John was (and still is) an avid mountain biker, so that first year we organized the Jordanelle Off-Road Triathlon at Rock Cliff using the Jordanelle Perimeter Trail. We had ~140 athletes that first year and we were hooked. Not having any equipment of our own, we borrowed everything we needed and improvised with everything else. We “painted” the ground with flour to mark individual athlete transition areas, "borrowed" soccer cones to mark courses and "borrowed" folding chairs from the recreation center in Heber. We used yellow caution tape between the chairs to mark the transition area. In many ways, those early events were some of the best from the aspects of camaraderie and friendships.

We are indebted to our early partners for our success, including Pool 'n Patio, Timex, Salt Lake Running Co., First Endurance, Utah State Parks, Mark Warner, USA Triathlon, XANGO, Joaquim Hailer/Zazoosh, TYR, In Training, Poco Loco, Zenergy Massage, Mac Read/Milliseconds, Hammer Gel, Gatorade, Bank of American Fork, and so many others who took a leap of faith to support our then-emerging sport.

Did Ironman Utah in Provo (a full in 2002, half in 2003) have an impact or did it come and go too soon?

We were involved in the original IM Utah full as run course coordinators, working with Paul Huddle and Roch Frey, two triathlon legends. Working such an iconic event helped us recognize what it took to produce a quality triathlon. Being a part of this developed a sense within us to always have the “best” event as far as equipment, ideas, courses, etc. Having a top tier organization like Ironman come to Provo was a boon to the local Utah triathlon scene. Suddenly, many more local athletes were "training for the Ironman". During that time the local triathlon retail sector grew, adding stores like SBR Sports, while other stores like Salt Lake Running Co. added triathlon gear to their retail space. The biggest benefit was triathlon awareness that Ironman brought to the Utah age group demographic. It wasn't long after that sprint events which previously had 100 athletes now had 400 or more participants.

Ironman Utah events in '02 & '03 were marred by bad weather & shortened courses

What was the timeline of the first overall Utah and TriUtah races, and how were those races established? What was your favorite venue?

Following TriUtah's first event in 1999 (Jordanelle Off-Road Triathlon), we added an adventure race in 2000 called the Big Muddy Outdoors on the Barker Ranch near Evanston, Wyoming. From there we continued to expand our race offerings, eventually peaking at 14 events per year. Prior to each season we would look for new venues where triathlons were not currently offered, resulting in races at Echo Reservoir (Coalville, UT), Pineview Reservoir (Ogden Valley, Huntsville, UT), Hyrum Reservoir (Cache Valley, Hyrum, UT), XTERRA in Moab, as well as local pool triathlon events such as the Woman of Steel Triathlon (South Jordan, Bountiful then finally American Fork, UT). We also expanded TriUtah to directing other events under contract including the Utah Summer Games, AARP (Premier Event Management), and others.

Two of our favorite venues are from our earliest events: Jordanelle and Echo. We both like the bike and run courses at both events for different reasons. The flat run course at Echo on the Rail Trail along the lake’s shore is fantastic, as is the run course at Jordanelle which winds through the Rock Cliff campground. The scenic bike course of both events are without question among the best anywhere!

My first triathlon was as a college student, the inaugural Salem Spring in 2003. No helmet? No problem! Find a spot along the fence to set your bike against. Barbecue at the finish line. When I moved back to UT in 2011 the scene had evolved. From your perspective how has the Utah tri scene changed since the early days?

At triathlons in the early days, it was a very tight-knit community. Most of the athletes knew each other and there was a great family feel at races. As race directors, we knew almost everyone by name and many became great friends. A few participants would come early to help set up and many would stay after races and help clean up the venues, race courses, etc. simply because they wanted to help. As the races expanded to 1000+ athletes, triathlon soon became more of a "let's get down to business" feel on race morning, rather than a family reunion of sorts. In some ways, that necessitated the biggest positive change: the increased emphasis on USA Triathlon competitive rules. With events that large, quality race directors simply cannot risk athlete safety and health by allowing what was “acceptable” back in the early days of triathlon (like not wearing helmets, etc.).

Over the past few years we both have noticed the feeling of community returning to events. John believes that with the abundance of events available, people are joining together to support the more popular venues as well as those that are closest to home. Chris believes this is likely due to triathlon clubs increasing their support by sponsoring pre-race course clinics, etc. Years ago as triathlon was growing, it was those non-race weekend clinics that enabled newbies to ask questions risk-free and helped to establish new friendships. For those longing for the good 'ol days of small, hometown triathlons, we are fortunate in Utah to still have events such as the Huntington Tri (Huntington, UT), Hillman Tri (Blanding, UT) and others.

What was the most frustrating/challenging aspect of being an RD. Most rewarding?

One of the most frustrating aspects was Utah weather. The joke, "Don't like Utah weather? Just wait 15 minutes!" came into play more times than we wanted. Whether it was the microburst winds at the Woman of Steel Tri in American Fork that blew over all of the transition racks, signage and damaged 8 of our tents the night before the race, the snow in early September at Pineview that cancelled the swim at the Ogden Valley Triathlon, the 100+ degree heat and lightning that caused fires at the Echo Tri, or the 50MPH winds for the athletes competing in our Kokopelli Half Iron Triathlon, it always seemed that we were fighting some aspect of the weather each race. Another frustration or challenge was trying to bring a new event to a community. We knew that we could leave a small footprint from the event itself but leave a sizable economic impact for the community. Convincing local authorities and community members was a challenge, especially when most people did not know what a triathlon was. It was often compounded by the disrespect of a few athletes (public urination, trash, parking, etc.) leaving a black eye on athletic events in general.

The most rewarding aspect was hearing about athletes' experiences in response to our "Why do you Tri?" question or the Woman of Steel nominations. One woman told us that it took her 4 years and substantial weight loss to go from the couch to participating in the Woman of Steel Triathlon. Others were fighting or had overcome cancer. Some used it as an emotional crutch going through divorce or grieving the loss of a loved one and used triathlon to help cope with the pain and suffering. When you read those types of stories, it changes your outlook on why you produce events. You know that you're making a difference in so many people's' lives. No longer is setting up transition racks in the rain or staying up all night preparing for a race as much of a burden. You see each individual athlete as a winner just for having the strength to show up for a race, regardless of if/when they cross the finish line.

Who were some of the best athletes in the early days – UT triathlon pioneers, winning races, etc?

There were so many that supported our races that it's hard to name them all! I'm sure we'll leave someone out. There were some great duels in those early years! Jo Garuccio, Tom Meiser, Tommy Thorum, Randal Lewis, Jana White, Darrell Hodges, Cortino Garcia, Serena Warner, Debbie Perry, Anne Heiner, Ryan Dolan, Monte Still, Karl Wild, Robert Kunz, Greg Tayler, Dave Ference, Tim Marek, Kenny Yeh, Aaron Olsen, Keena Hooker Schaerrer, Jeanette Schellenberg and so many others! Next generation athletes like Jason Crompton, BJ Christenson, Wes Johnson and Heath Thurston brought new blood to the races. We always had the support of great athletes like Fred and Jerry Mabey and Stan and Marti Davis who consistently won their age groups and represented Utah triathletes outside of Utah! We also love the "old guys" like Jim Demet, Larry Petersen and Don Mignola. Don raced into his late 70s and early 80s. It goes without saying that he won his age group every time! He was not the fastest but he was as much a winner as anyone!

at 2nd glance we spot many of the names referenced, including a young B.J. Christenson

If you drew a line chart of triathlon participation in UT, what would it look like? What kind of fields would you pull in the heyday (when there weren’t very many races, yet triathlon was growing rapidly), and what were typical entry fees?

Triathlon participation was relatively flat early in TriUtah's history from 1999-2002. From 2003-2007, triathlon saw its largest increase in athletes along with the introduction of the largest number of new races, race directing companies, etc. The economic downturn from ~2008-2011 brought decreased participation for most triathlon events in the state, but TriUtah was able to weather the downturn with events that still attracted a good percentage of their pre-downturn numbers. Around 2007 or 2008, we were asked to host a USAT Worlds Qualifier at the Jordanelle Triathlon, which peaked at over 1200 athletes, a few hundred of whom were from other states. Around that same time the Echo Triathlon was the USA Triathlon Rocky Mountain Regional Championship and drew ~1100 athletes for a few years in a row.

In the early days, typical race fees were around $35-50. As venues, municipalities, law enforcement, EMS, and others started to charge for their services, the typical entry fee increased to $75. Feedback from race directors is that permit and service fees continue to rise, which is why entry fees of $90-125 for a Sprint/Olympic are now commonplace.

Editor's Note: there's nothing in this for Utah Tri Buzz, we just try to hype the local scene... but check out TriUtah to find lots of great discount options on their races.

Dan has done a fantastic job with TriUtah. Out of curiosity, why did you decide to sell the company?

After 15 years and 100+ events, our families were telling us it was time to make a change. Dan Aamodt had approached us in 2010 with an interest in buying TriUtah, but it simply wasn't the right time for him. A few years later, Dan approached us once again and the time was right. The transition process was completed in very short time and both John and I have enjoyed watching TriUtah progress since that time with new events and ideas.

At times we both miss race directing. Chris stays involved in the administrative aspect of triathlon by volunteering on the USAT Rocky Mountain Region Council and on the USAT Drug Testing Task Force.

Many races have come and gone over the last several years… why do you think?

There are two major reasons:

1. Some races go away simply due to poor business decisions. If the revenue (entry fees, sponsorships, etc.) coming into an event isn't more than the expenses (permit fees, medals/shirts, food, etc.), it doesn't make business sense to continue a race that is losing money. Athletes should appreciate that triathlon for race directors has a serious business side. Some races can afford to go into debt initially for a few years (loss-leader in marketing terms) in the hopes that the race becomes popular in the future. In the end, if a race doesn't make money, it won't last long.

2. Race directors get burned out. We were fortunate to have an excellent business partner relationship and amazing spouses/families/staff who supported TriUtah year after year. The time away from your own training, sacrificing vacation time, the stress of event planning, and all of the other aspects of race directing can sometimes simply be too much for a person, resulting in the sale or cancellation of an event.

What’s your assessment on the current state of triathlon in UT, and how can we continue to grow the sport?

Triathlon in Utah is on the rebound after a few years of flat participation. Developing a stronger sense of community that was mentioned earlier is key. For too long triathlon promoters have relied on increasing numbers by assuming that we are all "Type A" triathletes and will convince our friends and neighbors that they need to "do a triathlon". It's time to inspire athletes doing mud/color/Spartan events that triathlon should be their next exciting challenge, and we need to be ready to support them with an all-inclusive and friendly triathlon community.

Anything else to add?

There have been so many who supported TriUtah over the years! It's impossible to thank them all. Our biggest debt of gratitude goes to our loving wives! It was their idea that brought on the Woman of Steel triathlon as well as many other key ideas. In addition, a sincere and special thanks goes to our amazing TriUtah employee family who endured sleepless nights, heat stroke, fixed sabotaged bike and run courses, worked events through cattle drives and film crews, chased runaway swim buoys, stuffed numerous goodie bags, answered athletes' questions with grace and professionalism, and endured the crazy ideas of OCD race directors! TriUtah's success is a direct reflection of the people we were surrounded by!

*Disclaimer: If there is anyone who you feel should be included in the list of best triathletes in the early years of TriUtah (1999-2000's), please email for inclusion. Also, if you feel other sponsors/companies should be included in the list of early supporters, please email us for consideration.

No comments:

Post a Comment