Meet the hardworking people behind Grand Rapids Triathlon and the ones who make race day happen year after year. As we prepare for the debut (and hopefully last) edition of the Grand Rapids Virtual Triathlon 9.5 this June, we celebrate the people who volunteer their time and have made GR Tri one of the best triathlons in the state…. or we like to think in the world!

Name: Eric Mentalewicz
Age: Just turned 45
Hometown: Ada, Michigan (Born in Grand Rapids)
Occupation: Outside Sales for CGL
Champion Position: Packet Pick-up Champion

How you got involved with Grand Rapids Triathlon?
I had some health problems in the Summer of 2015 and I had just turned 40 and decided it was time for me to lose some weight. I lost over 70 pounds and one of my biggest motivations was the GR Tri. I got it in my head that I would sign up for a triathlon and I would be forced to train for it or risk losing my entry fee. So I found GR Tri!  The race was an amazing experience! Besides feeling like I was going to die on the swim portion. I knew after that one race that I wanted to be involved with GR Tri in some way shape or form for a very long time. The next winter (2017)  I saw an opportunity on the Facebook page to be a packet pickup champion. I contacted Lori and met with Ann Vidro a few weeks later and I am happy to say that is how I got my position on the team. Now my wife and 3 of my 5 kids love being involved and volunteering with me every year. My two oldest daughters always have wanted to help out, but they are always in Florida during race week. I will try to find a few picks of my family volunteering.

Have you ever raced the event?
I raced in 2016 and I loved it other than feeling like I was going to die during the swim. I wasn’t prepared for open water with a hundred people surrounding me.

Do you have a favorite memory at Grand Rapids Triathlon?
I need to find the gentleman’s name, but the first year I was packet pick-up champion I remember seeing an 80-year-old man finish the event. I was inspired to say the least. I have since been inspired by dozens of other participants.

Any race mishaps over the years you like to laugh at now?
Just my energy throughout the day. On packet pick-up day I have logged well over 35,000 steps that Saturday before the race just making sure the pre-race event is going well. Then I get up at 2:30 AM the next morning to be at the race site by 3 AM and log another 35-40k steps on race day. I laugh now, but you somehow find the energy and everyone works really hard on race day.

What do you love about triathlon?
I love the adrenaline rush you get. It’s very intense and you train so hard so you can be good in all three events.

What is your favorite thing about Grand Rapids Triathlon?
The people! It’s an amazing sport that has no boundaries. I have seen all walks of life participate. Young, old, men, women some in incredible shape and some just out to have fun, but everyone is excited to be there and it’s fun to play watch people encourage each other. People you may not have ever met before, but at the event it’s like just one big happy family each other on.

Your perfect post-race meal?
A huge burrito.

Why should someone still do the Grand Rapids Virtual Triathlon 9.5?
I can’t think of a better way to introduce new athletes to this sport. You will have an opportunity to do this at your own pace without the stress of having other athletes close to you. A less intimidating approach for those who have been interested in trying it, but too anxious for various reasons that the virtual event will eliminate. A chance for someone new to build some confidence before the actual event with hundreds of other people.