Triathlon helps kids, hungry - Catholic Courier

Triathlon helps kids, hungry

July 16 dawned hot and humid in Geneva, but that didn’t stop approximately 1,000 people from descending on the city for the third-annual Musselman Triathlon.

The Musselman Triathlon — in which competitors swim in Seneca Lake and bike and run through Geneva and the surrounding areas — was organized by Jeff Henderson, a former math teacher at DeSales High School in Geneva. The race is sanctioned by USA Triathlon, the national governing body for multisport disciplines of triathlon, duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon in the United States.

Henderson grew up in Baldwinsville and has relatives in the Geneva area. A longtime athlete, he began competing in triathlons after college and eventually began to seriously consider founding and directing his own race, said his wife, Melissa.

“He had always thought of the Finger Lakes as a great community to hold a triathlon,” she added.

After choosing Geneva as the site of his new triathlon, Jeff decided to name the event after the zebra mussels inhabiting Seneca Lake. These small shellfish keep the lake crystal-clear by filtering algae out of the water, he noted on the triathlon’s Web site,

Early in the planning process, Jeff and the volunteers on the Musselman Triathlon’s planning committee were faced with the task of choosing an organization to benefit from the race’s proceeds. They chose the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva, and have donated more than $18,000 in triathlon proceeds to the organization since the competition’s inception in 2004.

The Hendersons and the committee members chose the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva because they thought it was a beneficial community organization that could use more funding, Melissa said.

“They serve a lot of disadvantaged youths in the community, which is something nice,” she said. “They try to reach out to a broad group of people who are underserved in our community.”

In 2005, Melissa and fellow Musselman-committee member Dave Soule decided it wasn’t enough to simply donate money to the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva, so they formed Team Mussel. The team — made up of a handful of children and teenagers, many of whom were Boys and Girls Club members themselves — began training with Melissa and Soule in March for the MusselKids Triathlon and mini-Mussel sprint race, she said.

“They are all kids who wouldn’t really have gotten exposure to triathlon without the team. These are all kids who parents have no idea what triathlon is,” Melissa said.

After several months of training, Team Mussel members successfully competed in the triathlon, Melissa said. The triathlon gave Team Mussel members the opportunity to learn about endurance sports, accomplish something they could be proud of and take part in a large community event, she said.

“It’s really neat for them. It’s just a really great experience for them to be committed to something for a few months,” she added.

This year, a portion of the race proceeds — especially those from the July 15 pre-race dinner — will benefit another segment of the local population.

“Some proceeds from the race are donated to local hunger relief through the (Geneva) Interfaith Council, which includes the Catholic churches in Geneva,” Jeff said.

Through the council, these funds will be distributed to various local hunger-relief agencies and programs, including Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Community Lunch Program and the Geneva Center of Concern, Melissa said.

The Musselman Triathlon attracted athletes from at least 28 states, several Canadian provinces and one European country, and it also attracted hundreds of volunteers from the Geneva area. Among the volunteers were Tim Karski, his wife Joan Leonard, and their sons Benen and Tadhg Karski, all parishioners of the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva.

Each year the Karski family volunteers to staff an aid station along the triathlon route, and this year their aid station was located at 105 State St. Tim Karski was the coordinator of that particular aid station, so he was in charge of setting up the station before the race and recruiting volunteers — including eight fellow parishioners — to help man the station.

“The athletes in the long race of the triathlon will already have completed a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike race and will be at the five-mile point of their 13.1-mile run when they reach our aid station,” Tim Karski told the Catholic Courier several days before the race. “It will be our responsibility to provide fluids, energy bars, fruit and cold sponges to refresh them on their run. This is all done very quickly and efficiently, as the athletes are literally on the run.”

Tim and Benen both took a break from their duties at the aid station to compete in the triathlon’s sprint race. Tim has been competing in this race since the first Musselman Triathlon, when he was joined in the race by two of his other sons. This year marked Benen’s second time competing in the sprint, Tim said. The entire family has been involved in the triathlon since it began in 2004.

“It was a well-run event and a very positive experience,” Tim said. “We met lots of interesting and nice volunteers and athletes from all over the country.”

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