FORT WAYNE – It was born on a wing and a prayer two summers ago, the brainchild of a triathlete trying to honor his late grandfather by bringing a triathlon to Fox Island County Park, where the grandfather volunteered so much of his time.
Derek Wetli and his fellow organizers were figuring on no more than 150 participants. Something like 200 showed up.
We were way too understaffed for that, he recalls, two years later, with the Fox Island triathlon now grown to include USA Triathlon events in April, May and June.
So that was kind of a disaster. Lot of athletes got lost and a lot of penalties had to be assessed.
But in the end, we got through it, and USAT didn’t pull its sanctioning. And with each race last year, things got better.
Which brings us to this year, and a prognosis even Wetli – the race director for the Fox Island Sprint Triathlon Series, hosted by Tri-State Triathlon – acknowledges is grim.
To defray the cost of running the event at Fox Island in a time of Parks Department budget cuts, plus the cost of procuring the proper support from various local police and fire agencies, he figures he needs at least 100 athletes for the April 21 event to break even.
Last year, 75 showed up; this year, he’s gotten 40 entries in the same time frame he had 60 last year.
Hence, the addition to all three events of a duathlon (1.5-mile run, 12-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) to run concurrently with the traditional triathlon races.
The duathlon has always been a contingency plan, especially for the April race because of possibility of the water being too cold or ice, Wetli says.
We just never opened it as an individual event, a separate event. Our thought process behind that is we’re struggling to break even. We raised the prices a little bit to be on par with other organizations, but we didn’t want to raise the prices too much so we decided to add an event for people who were interested in swimming or interested in swimming in a lake.
The April event, he hopes, also will be augmented by the fact it’s now a qualifier for the Paratriathlete Nationals in May.
We’ve got a group coming in from Chicago called dare2tri, he says. Basically they’ve got to get a qualifying time before the second weekend in May. Actually, it has to be obtained before May begins.
Start times for the three events – on April 21, May 18 and June 16 – is 7 a.m. Ideally, Wetli would like to see a full 200-athlete field for all three.
At this point this might be the last one, Wetli says. We might look at going in a different direction with it, or look at folding the organization altogether if this isn’t a profitable season.
But if we were to get races filled at 200, we would have enough to provide for these other organizations that are an integral part of Allen County, Wetli said of the fire department, sheriff’s department and police department, all of which donate time and resources to the event.
That’s kind of our goal – not just to host triathlons for the health benefits and the appreciation of nature, but also to partner with all these entities. We make sure they have enough funding. It’s our goal to be a source of income for them.