Some things in life are just valuable beyond measure. How do you put a price on the opportunity for every child in a community to participate in a triathlon? You don't. It isn't often we come across events with a $0 registration fee, but Tri for Inclusion® is one such special event, with a very special founder/race director! We caught up with Kimberly Resh to find our more about the swim-bike-run event and the wonderful participants and volunteers who come together on the last Saturday in June in the Lehigh Valley. Kimberly sent me a lot of photos, saying she had difficulty choosing. It's easy to see why! So we are including nearly all of them!
I read the history page of the website and how the event began in 2013, inspired by Conner and Cayden Long, two young brothers who compete together in triathlons despite one having a disability. It's no small undertaking to put on a three-sport event! Did you have experience with triathlon or race directing prior to this?
Actually, yes! Not race directing, but I was a USA Gymnastics Meet Director for several years when Mikayla’s younger sister Lauren was a competitive gymnast. Still, this is obviously quite different. We just took our time with every step and decision, taking over 18 months to plan our first Tri for Inclusion®. I am the event director, handling all of the pre-work and athlete support. We do hire a race director to help with race day and course logistics.
What was the biggest lesson learned that first year?
Honestly, the advice I remember most came from our timer. He assured me that no matter how out of control things felt to me, others wouldn’t see it. He told me to be “like a duck on water, paddling like crazy underneath but calm on the surface.” It is the perfect analogy ~ because it can feel exactly like that, especially when it seems a dozen people need your attention at once. If you are able to stay calm, you can better prioritize and work through any issues.
What advice would you share with new race directors?
I would suggest they take care of all details in advance. Pre-planning is key. Don’t leave anything until race day. That said, it is impossible to anticipate everything, and there are sure to be some unknowns. No race day is going to go perfectly. So I would also share something I tell all our volunteers: bring your smile, flexibility, patience and sense of humor. Simply do your best to make sure every competitor has a fun and safe experience.
What does finishing look/feel like for the participants?
Our event is not unlike others, and that was very important to us. Our youth triathletes with and without disabilities work just as hard ~ if not harder in some cases ~ to complete the race. They earn and are provided athletes’ race bags, event t-shirts, race bibs and bike numbers, plus custom finisher and placement medals. We hire a professional timer, who provides electronic timing chips, finish line with towers, and large display race clock. They announce all finishers and provide full race results, including times and placement. That was the greatest surprise to us: how much ALL the kids liked the competitive aspect of the Tri for Inclusion. By creating inclusive teams of kids with and without disabilities and giving placement awards for inclusive relays, we evened the playing field making it possible for kids with disabilities to enjoy not just participation, but the spirit of competition.
It is difficult ~ if not impossible ~ to fully express just how wonderful this day is. Everyone enjoys a wonderful sense of accomplishment ~ athletes for having participated and finished, and volunteers for having made it all possible.
Has this event impacted inclusion in the community more broadly?
Absolutely! We knew this would be much more than a race. We promised a priceless opportunity for all kids and young adults, and an important message for our entire community, but Tri for Inclusion® has exceeded all expectations. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies) have been our presenting sponsor since our event’s inception in 2013. Their title sponsorship, with countless additional corporate sponsors, individual gifts, and in-kind donations, allows us to offer our event without a registration fee. The only cost to athletes is their USAT membership.
Equally important are our dedicated team of volunteers. Over 50 volunteers from Mikayla’s Voice®, many who return year after year, coordinate the pool heats, help in transition, staff water stations, hand out finisher medals, and serve post-race food and drink. Volunteers from Cetronia Ambulance, Northwest Swim Club, Greenawalds Fire/Rescue, and South Whitehall Township Police donate all EMT, lifeguard, fire, police, and detour/traffic services to keep our children safe. Together, Mikayla’s Voice®, our sponsors, volunteers, and especially inspiring athletes of All abilities show our entire community that there is always a way to include everyone. That powerful message, spirit of collaboration, and sense of pride make our community stronger.
I love the ladybug t-shirts that say No Sidelines! Can you explain the meaning behind those?
Every year, on the last Saturday in June no one in the Lehigh Valley is left on the sidelines. Kids of all abilities compete side-by-side and together in something they had likely not dreamed possible or ever planned to do and show our entire community that there is always a way to include everyone in everything. Borrowed from Mikayla’s Voice® logo ~ our recently trademarked ladybug has all black spots and just one yellow. ~ a beautifully simple idea that clearly shares the message of inclusion with everyone, no matter their age. We all have a yellow spot.®
What is your favorite part of being the race director?
That’s easy…the hugs. ☺
As a race director, if you could wave a magic wand or invent something to help with your role, what would it be?
I would wave my magic wand and everyone would register months in advance. Everyone is so busy these days, families wait to make sure there are no conflicting activities or simply forget to jump online and get it done.
What is your favorite thing about imATHLETE?
The ability to easily create a new event registration from the year prior.
What is the most popular post-race food or snack at your event?
Cake! The first year it was for Connor Long’s and Owen’s (another triathlete’s) birthdays, but the tradition stuck. In addition to the traditional post-race fruit and bagels, we always serve cake in celebration of our triathletes.
And watch their video - it's guaranteed to put a smile on your face!!