On Sunday, June 4 the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority (CVA) helped put on the 40th annual Leon’s Triathlon. Close to 300 athletes of all levels and abilities came out to Wolfe Lake Park in Hammond to participate in the most patriotic triathlon in the country. Goals were achieved, memories were made, and most importantly, our nation’s brave heroes were honored.
Leon’s Triathlon was started by Leon Wolek in 1983 in honor of our veterans and fallen soldiers. Since its humble beginnings, the triathlon has become widely known as America’s Race and now brings people to the Region from all over the country.
Megan Goodan, chief sports and leisure officer for South Shore CVA, was grateful to have the opportunity to help put on such a special event for the community.
“We’re really excited to be a part of hosting and putting on the 40th Leon’s Triathlon. It’s exciting, inspiring, and incredibly empowering,” said Goodan.
Before the racing began, the South Shore CVA started the event off with a remarkable ceremony to remember and honor our country’s veterans, fallen soldiers, and POWs. As Goodan proudly sang the national anthem, patriots held one of the largest American Flags in the United States for everyone to see. As if that weren’t touching enough, veteran Troy Church skydived into the event waving an American Flag.
Congressman Frank Mrvan came during the ceremony to share his gratitude with the City of Hammond and all it's done to commemorate its veterans.
“The City of Hammond has never looked greater or more patriotic,” said Mrvan.
Mrvan encouraged everyone to remember during their race who it was they were racing for: the veterans who have fought for our freedom and their families. The reminder was perfect, as the course for the triathlon ran right along the Gold Star Memorial Highway, a highway dedicated to all of the families in Indiana who have lost their loved ones in service.
“As we compete, may we all remember that it is because of our veterans and our fallen heroes who have sacrificed that we have the umbrella of freedom and get to live in the greatest country in the world. God bless all of you,” said Mrvan.
Nothing was more remarkable than the ceremony than the triathlon itself. The participants pushed themselves hard as they swam, biked, and ran in memory of our veterans. 30 of the participants were actually disabled veterans who were competing with the support of Dare2Tri, a nonprofit organization that helps kids, adults, and veterans with physical disabilities get involved in community recreation.
Kerie Serota, executive director of Dare2Tri, explained that Dare2Tri has partnered with Leon’s Triathlon for over a decade now and that the partnership has had an immeasurable impact on the well-being of disabled veterans.
“The partnership with Leon’s Triathlon has just been amazing for Dare2Tri. There’s not a race more patriotic throughout America than Leon’s, so to have our injured veterans cross the finish line here is incredible. We always say the finish line is just the beginning,” said Serota.
Serota explained that one of the best things about Leon’s Triathlon is that it allows disabled veterans to be a part of their community and gain that same sense of camaraderie they had during their service.
“It allows our veterans to be a part of the community and be able to live active, healthy lifestyles right alongside their friends and family. It also helps bring veterans together and give them camaraderie--they had that camaraderie in the service and now they can have that again as they push each other and achieve a goal alongside each other. It’s just really great,” said Serota.
All of the day’s participants gained something whether it was fond memories or a personal best, but what is especially important is that our veterans gained confidence.
“I think they made new connections today--maybe they realized they could do something that they didn’t think they could do after their injury or maybe they’re doing something they used to do before their injury or maybe even they’re doing something they’ve never done before. No matter what they discovered today, it instilled a confidence in them that will carry over into all aspects of their lives,” said Serota.
Overall, as the athletes crossed the finish line with smiles plastered on their faces and were greeted with thunderous cheers, flowers, and, of course, water, it was apparent that this year’s Leon’s Triathlon couldn’t have been more meaningful. The South Shore CVA can’t wait to see how the triathlon continues to grow and impact people’s lives in the future.
“I hope people want to come back and participate and know that Hammond and the South Shore CVA care about Leon’s mission for our veterans and our first responders. We have an amazing venue here to host a triathlon and we hope to host it for another 40 years,” said Goodan.
The South Shore CVA team is grateful to everyone who helped them put on another wonderful triathlon. None of it would’ve been possible without Leon and his family, all of the event’s sponsors including Home Depot and Mission BBQ, the City of Hammond, and all the kind volunteers that made the day even more special.
To learn more about South Shore CVA, visit https://www.southshorecva.com/.