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!

This featured Champion is thee Champion… she is the glue that holds Grand Rapids Triathlon together. Not only does her personality gravitate people to her and makes them wish she was their friend, but she also has a passion and all-knowing superpower that just radiates for everyone to see. There would be no GR Tri without Lori, she knows what an athlete needs even before they need it and after handling all of the mishaps and victories during the races, she celebrates every finisher’s accomplishments. She truly is the best!

Name: Lori Ott

Age: 47

Hometown: Wyoming

Occupation: Assistant to the Race Directors of the GR Tri, MiTi, and Dirty Mitten

Champion Position: Administrative Assistant

How you got involved with Grand Rapids Triathlon?
Back in June of 2012 my friend Brian asked me if I wanted to go with him to volunteer in transition at the Grand Rapids Tri. So what was supposed to be a volunteer job that lasted until noon ended up being so much fun I stayed until the entire race was torn down. I had such a blast watching athletes in Transition that I swore I’d be one of them the following year. In 2013, shortly after my 40th birthday I became a triathlete for the very first time at the GR Tri. Later that fall Ann & Andy Vidro brought me on as their assistant to work on the Tris4Health events all year long and when Jon (Conkling) & John (Mosey) took over the events I transitioned to working for them.

Have you ever raced the event?
I raced in 2013 in my very first triathlon ever doing the Sprint distance. I absolutely fell in love with the sport completely and it kind of became my life after that. The Grand Rapids Tri is still my favorite course to this date even though I don’t get to race it on race day. However, in 2016 I had a friend unable to swim because of an injury and so we turned her event into a relay and I got to do the sprint distance swim there again that year. Not easy taking roughly 15-20 minutes out of an intensely packed race week full of work to swim 600m when you’re exhausted, but I got the job done. It will probably always be my favorite course and so I’m grateful that even though this year isn’t going off as we’d hoped or expected I’ll be able to compete on the course again and earn a 2020 Finisher Medal.

Do you have a favorite memory at the event?
In my early days working on staff for the event, I had the sheer joy of watching 80-year-old athlete Janet cross the GR Tri finish line after completing the sprint. I knew her age from being written on her calf. I walked up to her and introduced myself to her, told her that she was inspiring and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She responded back to me in a way that she didn’t quite understand my fuss and said “Oh honey, this is no big deal. I do this almost every weekend in the summer.” God, I loved that woman and her smile. Meeting her was my greatest joy from the events. Hearing from her family that she’d passed away and wouldn’t be joining us on our course any more was my greatest sorrow.

Any race mishaps over the years you like to laugh at now?
Too many to mention. . .basically I spend race week every single year for the last 7 years putting out fires. Race week for me is about an 80 hour work week. My hope is that I’m so good at putting out those figurative fires that none of our athletes would ever even have known it was an issue. It took 6 years, but I finally figured out that knowing where the extra toilet paper for the port-o-potties is on race day is crucial and important. At least one key player should be exceptionally aware come 4:00 AM on race day where the extra TP is being stored. And that seems kind of funny to think about, but given the current state of the world my guess is that anyone reading this is now fully aware of how important it is to have TP in stock.

What do you love about triathlon?
That I don’t have to be good at any one thing, I can be mildly mediocre at three things (four if you count transitioning) and I’m still an athlete. I also love that most courses allow you to be a back of the pack athlete and still connect with those impressive athletes crushing the course. I especially love that about the out and back aspect of the GR Tri bike and run courses. I’ve been able to cheer on my fast friends as they’re heading for the finish line while I’m making my way out on the course. I truly feel like it’s a sport for everyone. Anyone can take time to learn to swim, bike, and run, even if they’re not fast. And you can do it on the inexpensive bike you picked up at a garage sale if you want or super invest in yourself and upgrade to fun toys. You can get a membership to a local gym and swim year round or head to your local high school pool or nearest lake when it warms up. With myTeamTriumph being involved that even opens more doors. But I have yet to meet anyone and look at them and think “Yeah they could never do a triathlon or even be part of a relay.” If I had my way, I’d talk everyone into giving it a TRI!

What is your favorite thing about Grand Rapids Triathlon?
Hands down it would be the people, mainly connecting with athletes. It is my favorite part about my job. As an extreme extrovert I’m so glad that I’ve gotten to meet and connect with thousands of people simply because we all enjoy triathlon. So I’m looking forward to and hoping that our athletes will stay connected via social media, use hashtags, send notes and messages about how they’re doing this June. Heck, I’m even happy if they want to pick up the phone and make a call to let me know how their virtual event went.

Your perfect post-race meal?
I’ll be honest, I’m not picky. Whether I’m competing as an athlete or I’m on the course at GR Tri from 3:30 AM to 6:30 PM, my favorite post race meal is just food! I want food. I’m hungry. I will say that while working the event an ice cold Pepsi always feels amazing and I am happy to have a chance to check out the yogurt bar Yo Chef puts up in the VIP tent. Last year Kari, our volunteer coordinator, made sure to save me a pistachio muffin from Heidi’s Bakery at the volunteer tent and it was amazing. But usually the staff hits Vitale’s in Ada after the race site is all torn down and while I’m generally longing for a hot shower and my bed it feels nice to just sit with everyone, chat/laugh about the day, and eat some pizza.

Why should someone still do the Grand Rapids Virtual Triathlon 9.5?
My hope is that before this COVID-19 situation went into full force most of our athletes were training and working towards the goal of either finishing their first triathlon, improving on an aspect of it from the prior season, or setting a GR Tri course PR. Just because we can’t all be together in the same place on race day doesn’t mean that training has to go to waste. I think it’s good right now to have something to focus on that is positive, uplifting, and helps people do something that leads to self improvement. Give your mind and your body something to do that isn’t about the crazy situation we’re all in. And I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m all about the bling. So I’m super excited to work towards earning a medal that is an interesting design and has a story behind it.