Athlete InterviewUSAT Championship Event

Fourteen Michigan Athletes Head to Long Course Nationals in Motala, Sweden

The Grand Rapids Triathlon was honored by having its 2014 event chosen as the site of the USAT Long Course National Championships.  Over 800 triathletes from all over the United States came to Grand Rapids on June 13th to compete for their one chance to make it onto Team USA to compete in Motala, Sweden on June 27, 2015. These athletes participated in the half distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in hopes of placing in the top 20 in their age group. All those who managed to do just that were offered the opportunity to join Team USA in Sweden for the World Championships. If there was room left the offer was rolled down to those who finished up to 25th in their age group.  Dozens of Michigan athletes managed to place in the top of their age divisions, but 14 of those took the USAT up on the offer and decided to head to Sweden this summer to be part of the Long Course World Championship. This course will push our Team USA athletes the extra mile (or a few more) with a swim of 2.48 miles, bike of 74.5 miles, run of  18.6 miles.

We’d like to take the time to introduce you to these amazing athletes and wish them luck:

Shelley Irwin
54 years old
Grand Rapids, MI

“I begin my fifth year of triathlon insanity! Beginning the journey with ‘indoor tris’, I grew to love the tri-sport and the adventures that are unique to each bout! To date, I have participated in all of the GR Triathlon events, including the Michigan Titanium. Yes, there have been countless Sprint and Olympic distances in between in other local races, throwing in a marathon or two just for fun! It’s the way I balance life…and relax! Practicing Physical Therapy for many years prior to changing careers to broadcasting, I understand how lucky we are to be able to challenge our bodies, and the many health benefits I’ve achieved both physically and mentally are worth the sweat and hard work in gold!”

Kim Albin
42 years old
DeWitt, MI

“One of only 13 Licensed Veterinary Oncology Technicians in the world, I was pushed into triathlon 5 years ago by peer pressure and has never looked back.  As a swimmer in my youth and a runner as an adult, I found triathlon an easy transition (pun intended).  After falling in love with the sport, qualifying for age group Olympic distance nationals 5 years in a row and now ITU Long Course nationals I have become a Level 1 USAT certified triathlon coach.  I’m excited to represent the USA and Michigan in Sweden!  I’m a mother to a teenage daughter and employed at St. John’s Animal Clinic.  In my spare time, I am a Spinning instructor at the DeWitt YMCA, a Proctor for 3 online Veterinary Oncology Courses, a Triathlon Coach at T4 Endurance, a guest lecturer at MSU Veterinary Technology School and Director at Large of the Oncology division of the AIMVT.  A reader, who loves to dance and my personal motto is ‘Keep Groovin’.”

Kristen Zhang
26 years old
Grand Rapids, MI

“I have always loved to compete. I was a distance swimmer on the swim team and a coxswain on the crew team in high school but decided I wanted to add triathlons in the offseason. I competed in my first tri as the swimmer on a relay team during my sophomore year in high school. After two years on relays, I was hooked and started competing on my own. I have since competed in indoor, sprint and Olympic distances and even convinced my husband to compete in some sprint distance tris.  After watching my father complete an Ironman at age 50, I took the challenge and completed the full Iron distance at the Michigan Titanium in 2013 at age 24.  Then I competed in the Half Iron distance at the Long Course National Championship in 2014 and earned a trip to the Long Course World Championships in Sweden in summer 2015 as a member of Team USA. I am a two-time winner of the West Michigan High Endurance Award; also a “Girls on the Run” coach and middle school cross country coach. I hope to pass along my dedication to staying active and passion for triathlons to the next generation.”

AJ Herbel
26 years old
Grand Rapids, MI

“I work as a chemist at Amway. Last year’s Grand Rapids triathlon was only my 3rd triathlon and my first 70.3 Half Ironman. Qualifying to compete in the Long Course Triathlon World Championships in Motala Sweden is my greatest accomplishment as a triathlete. I am so fortunate that the Grand Rapids Triathlon happened to be a National Qualifying race last year. As far as disciplines go, I am an experienced runner having run cross country and track throughout high school and college. I picked up cycling about 4 years ago, once I graduated from college for a new challenge. I really enjoy both running and cycling. Although I consider swimming to be my weakest discipline It was only natural for the triathlon to be my next step.”

Brandon Thorpe
22 years old
Cassopolis, MI

“As the youngest of three boys, I grew up on Diamond Lake in Cassopolis, MI.  From a very young age, I enjoyed swimming, biking, and being outside.  Although I played basketball and had no background in endurance sports in high school, I developed an interest in triathlons while attending Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.  During the past 3 years, I have competed in numerous triathlons of various distances from Sprint to full iron. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that I feel after every race.  My future plans are to continue competing in triathlon and living a healthy lifestyle while attending the Marquette University School of Dental School. I will continue to work hard to be the best athlete and person I can be.”  Favorite Quote: “The sky does not have to be your limit”

Rita Messing
38 years old
Harbor Beach, MI

“I’m an optometrist and mother of two.  In 2010, at age 33, I started running as a way to get in shape.  A 5k became a 10k and so on until I had run a half marathon.  In the summer of 2011, I did my first tri- a sprint in my hometown of Muskegon (Bear Lake Triathlon).  It was a small tri but I was first in my age group.  The following summer I did an Olympic distance tri and a full marathon.  My third summer of triathlon I did the half in Benton Harbor (IM Steelhead).  I had so much fun that I knew I wanted to do a Full Ironman. I decided on IM Mont-Tremblant which was Aug 17, 2014.  I needed a warm-up race and the GR Half fit perfectly into my schedule.  Besides, I have a lot of friends in GR so I figured it would be fun.  I was nervous about GR because it was pretty early in the season for a half.  My closest indoor pool is a 60-mile trip one way!  I usually train in Lake Huron and that was pretty cold even in a wetsuit on June 1st.  So, without much swim training, I went into GR on June 8.  I ended up getting a PR!  I was very happy with my time of 5:37.  I think I was extra motivated because I was racing with 3 male friends and I didn’t want anyone to have to wait for me after the race!  I was excited to see that I made the Top Ten in my AG too (at least that’s where I was ranked the last I looked).  I went on to finish my Full Iron course in Aug in 12:57.  It was a great 2014!  I actually just finished my 3rd half iron, IM Florida, April 12.  Although Sweden is 11 weeks after that race, it pushed me to work hard through the winter.  I am a very patriotic person who also loves to travel so the thought of racing with Team USA in Sweden felt like such an amazing opportunity.  I like to think of it as my Olympics; I’ve always been a dreamer so for a 38-year-old Mom, I will wear that uniform with lots of pride and excitement.  I will do my best to represent our country and community well in Motala.  I won’t be the fastest but I am passionate about this sport and cannot wait for this experience.
As another aside, the race kit I wore in GR was for Team Lucky 7, a non-profit geared towards raising money and awareness for neurological disorders.  My cousin started this foundation because he is one of only 7 people to have a rare brain disorder.  He helped me a lot going into my first half iron tri because he used to race; however, he has been sidelined for the past few years as he tries to stabilize his health.  He is a constant source of support and motivation for me.  In fact, I often think of people who can’t race for whatever reason and I do it for them.  I feel extremely blessed to be a part of the “triathlon club.”  Triathlon has taught me lessons in overcoming obstacles, and in hard work and perseverance.  It has allowed me to grow, make new friends and push myself- all of which allowed me to find much inner happiness.  I’m grateful life led me down this path and I enjoy encouraging others to ‘tri’.”

Brandy Woodall Ritter
44 years old
Shelby Township, MI

“I’ve been doing triathlons since 1999. I started doing a sprint race in the Detroit metro area at Stony Creek – sport was still so small back then that legends of the racing community like Sheila Taormina were there. I fell in love with racing and to date have completed over 100 races including several Ironman triathlons. I really wanted to qualify for team USA a Grand Rapids last year and was very excited when I did so… Looking forward to racing in Sweden with our team!”

Dan Lynch
35 years old
Novi, MI

“I’m married to the most loving and supportive wife a Triathlete could wish for, Angel Lynch and have 3 Awesome Kids – Braylen (11), Theiss (9), Carli (2). Braylen and Theiss completed their first Triathlon in 2014. I’m part of the Motor City Endurance tri team. My Most Memorable Triathlon Experience was being the first out of the water and holding the lead through the entire 112-mile bike at the Full Rev Cedar Point in 2014. My 2015 goals are to enjoy an active family life with my wife and kids while competing at a high level in 2015 races of all distances; Grand Rapids Half, Long Distance Worlds, IM Boulder, Rev3 Cedar Point, and several local shorter Tri’s.”

Martha Ying
50 years old
Birmingham, MI

Martha has been racing triathlon for 20 years and has completed over one hundred races, including four Ironman distances.

Ryan Leestma
35 years old
Caledonia, MI

Ryan is the founder and owner of ISI, a premier IT service provider throughout West Michigan. He began competing in triathlons 5 years ago. He’s not only a triathlete but his company, ISI, is also the Title Sponsor of Michigan’s only Full Distance triathlon, the ISI MI Titanium. His biggest triathlon highlight was qualifying for Team USA at the Grand Rapids Triathlon last year, just one day after his youngest child was born.

Erin Ferguson
36 years old
Lake Ann, MI

“I’ve been participating in triathlons since 2007. My first race was a sprint tri in Mackinaw City and I admittedly was well undertrained for everything but the run, as I had just finished my first marathon 2 months earlier. That race was a series of mistakes and I finished nearly in last place. That personal embarrassment sparked something in me to improve and I began working. 8 years and countless races later, including 3 full distance races, I find myself staring at the countdown timer to the World Championships. I still have to pinch myself. Anything is Possible if you allow yourself to believe it.”

Kathleen Spillane
58 years old
Chelsea, MI

Jonathan Ely
47 years old
Port Huron, MI

Mary Eyke
41 years old
Muskegon, MI


Grand Rapids Triathlon

Grand Rapids Triathlon

We are the largest independent triathlon and proud host of five USAT National Championships over the course of our nine-year history. While our event brings in some of the best athletes from across the country, we have also been named one of the Top 5 Best Triathlons for Beginners in the country according to Triathlon Business International. This triathlon event is a chance for athletes of all skill levels to compete on a scenic riverside course, perfect for the novice through the seasoned triathlete. Offering Sprint, Olympic, and Half distance Triathlons, Aquabike, Swim and Relay events, this USA Triathlon sanctioned event promises heart-pounding excitement from start to the finish.