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Tri U Mah celebrates 20 years

Competitors raced to greater distances at the annual University triathlon.
Amelia Roessler
Competitors spent 30 minutes on the biking portion of the triathlon during Saturday’s Tri U Mah.

With hype-up music playing, people cheering and competitors ready, the annual Tri U Mah indoor triathlon celebrated its 20th anniversary with around 300 participants competing in Saturday and Sunday’s challenge. 

The triathlon, held in the University of Minnesota’s Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell), required athletes to swim, bike and run – each for 30 minutes, with the longest total distance athlete winning a certificate. 

Ben Kohler, the fitness and wellness director at RecWell, said Tri U Mah is the kickoff to triathlon season and is held indoors because it is generally too cold to compete outside. 

“What’s become really cool about the event is you don’t need the bike, and because you don’t need a fancy wetsuit, it has become an accessible triathlon for anyone, and we pride ourselves on that,” Kohler said. 

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For the last three or four years, there has been a specific collegiate triathlon portion of the race where the Minnesota Triathlon Club competes along with invited schools around the area, such as the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Wisconsin-Madison, Iowa and South Dakota, according to Kohler. 

Outside of the collegiate portion, Kohler said people are allowed to choose their own pace of the race, with some people going really fast and some going nice and slow. 

“It’s really the community, the University community, that drives people to want to do it if they’re not really interested in the competition side of things,” Kohler said. 

Tri U Mah first started 20 years ago as an idea from a RecWell student intern and is used for training for other triathlons and building the racing community, according to RecWell’s blog

Linda McKee, a 10-year Tri U Mah veteran and RecWell’s associate department director and director of aquatics, said the triathlon is a great kick-off to the triathlon season. 

“We’re generally the first one, so it’s just kind of a fun like, ‘No one’s in super great shape right now, but hey, let’s just get in and see what we’re doing and having fun,’” McKee said. 

McKee was the information speaker for Saturday’s swim section of the race, announcing the start and end of the heats while being the athletes’ “hype man.”

“I just love the atmosphere and the community of triathlon,” McKee said. 

Kohler said it is about trying something new, challenging your body and making it a community effort by inviting friends or doing it with coworkers. 

“You’re not on a race track, so you’re not getting passed by people, you have no idea how fast they’re going or how their distance is,” Kohler said. “You really get to just do your best and you don’t have the kind of pressure of getting left behind, or trying to keep up with someone.”

Kohler added there are some people who sign up and just swim one lap because they plan to make up the distance on the bike or running portion of the race. 

“Just do it”: Racers share their thoughts

Kael Wherry and Lynn Tews participated together in Tri U Mah on Saturday and said, while they had not competed since the pandemic, they love this race. 

“I like this one because you don’t have any of the crowd, like with the outside triathlon, everyone is bunched together to run, to start, and it can be intimidating,” Wherry said. 

Tews said the event is more social for the two friends, as they tend to talk too much, but the race is a good way to get used to triathlons.

Carol Erklouts and Meghan Hendrickson, both staff at the College of Design, had never raced Tri U Mah before but did it with 15 of their colleagues for faculty engagement. 

“I didn’t know how competitive this would be knowing that there are real athletes that might sign up for this, but it seems more chill,” Hendrickson said. 

Kelly Bankole, Michele Semantel and Molly Hammel raced in Tri U Mah for the second time this year, after a successful start to their triathlon journey last year. 

The three friends decided to compete because it was something they enjoyed doing together, and it gave them a goal to work on and motivate them through the winter. 

Bankole, who is 60 years old, said she liked the event because it is not in open water. 

Semantel said, “The idea of running into a lake and having other people maybe jump on me — hard pass.” 

For people new to triathlons and Tri U Mah, Hammel said to just do it and lean into the people here. 

“They cheer for you,” Hammel said about the Tri U Mah volunteers. “Going around with towels, water, if you need anything. They’re just really supportive.” 

Bakole suggests running through the race before competing to get an understanding of how to pace. She also said, “If you can keep moving — success.” 

“Just do it, whether you’re 15 or 75,” Bankole said. 

Kohler said the race is an “all-levels, enter at whatever level you’re at” type of race and they get participants who compete with friends, spouses, children and all types of connections. 

“A lot of what we focus on is the student experience,” Kohler said. “This is one of the big events that we put on that really does open our arms and really does embrace the University community.”

This story was originally published on Minnesota Daily on February 5, 2024.