‘Perfect storm’ helps nonprofit buy race


Captains and Angels from myTeam Triumph hit the road during last week's River Bank Run. Courtesy Rudy Malmquist

MyTeam Triumph has returned to its roots.

Since the nonprofit’s founding in Grand Rapids, the West Michigan chapter has helped countless disabled athletes to complete road races and triathlons, from Iron Man competitions to the most recent Fifth Third River Bank Run. But it’s the Tri del Sol, an annual triathlon held on the grounds of a YMCA campground in Middleville, where myTeam Triumph got its start and the race always has held a special place for the nonprofit.

So, when Tri del Sol race director and owner Wayne Brown was looking to sell the race last year, he didn’t have to look far. From the start, myTeam Triumph had hoped to one day have a race to call its own, and the timing of Brown’s decision to sell ownership of Tri del Sol couldn’t have happened at a better time.

“It was the perfect storm that came together,” myTeam Triumph board member Greg VanDeusen said. “There had always been some discussion about owning a race, but it always ended up tabled because it involves a lot of logistics, and we didn’t want to take away something great just to own one. We thought it would be a dream come true if it ever happened, and then, just bam, the opportunity presented itself.”

To provide disabled athletes with an experience in which they otherwise would not have the opportunity to participate, myTeam Triumph partners the athletes who need assistance — the designated captains of the race — with able-bodied athletes — termed “angels” — who volunteer their time and abilities to push or pull the captains through the course.

When the nonprofit was founded in 2008, myTeam Triumph provided four captain experiences and 21 angel experiences in that first year. In 2016, the West Michigan chapter provided 150 captain experiences and 300 angel experiences. At last week’s River Bank Run, 52 myTeam Triumph angels assisted 17 captains in completing the race. Today, there are now 33 chapters throughout the United States with additional chapters in Canada and the Netherlands.

“The great thing is this isn’t a relay or a competition, everyone does this together, and it’s all about making sure the captain finishes,” VanDeusen said. “It’s not about getting the best time — the captain gets the medal, and we all want to see them crossing that line.”

MyTeam Triumph sees the Tri del Sol as the race that started it all for them, so when the opportunity came up to take ownership, it was a perfect fit. Brown will return as race director for his 26th year this summer.

VanDeusen said myTeam Triumph isn’t planning to make any changes to the Tri del Sol in its first year running the race, but the long-term goal is to turn it into a destination race for athletes in need, not just throughout Michigan but in the Midwest.

“There’s so much potential for this race, being situated at Camp Manitou-Lin, we have the campsite available and the opportunities are endless, as the board discusses long-term and short-term goals,” VanDeusen said. “We want this to become a premier race for athletes who need assistance, while still maintaining that quality and availability to elite and beginner (able-bodied) athletes.”

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