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Numbers down but triathletes still come for the laid back good time

The swimming leg of a men’s sprint division hits the water of Little Detroit Lake during the Young Life Triathlon. BRIAN BASHAM/DL NEWSPAPERS2 / 3

A cheerful and relaxed race atmosphere more than compensated for what began as a cool and windy morning for the ninth annual Young Life Triathlon on Saturday, August 17.

Numbers were slightly down from previous years, as 384 athletes competed in the fundraising event.

“This is the first year we didn’t have an increase,” said Peter Paulson, area director for Lakes Area Young Life.”

However, Paulson didn’t appear concerned, noting that registration has decreased around 10 percent in triathlon registration across the Midwest, partially as a result of the growing emergence of similar events.

Smaller registration numbers couldn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the volunteers.

“The race entrants were down, but our volunteers came out in droves,” Paulson said.

“We’ve just been so blessed by our volunteers this year,” he added.

Especially praising the efforts of fellow event coordinators, Jason Loney and Greg Johnson, Paulson said, “they’ve really taken it to the next level, leading on a team of incredible people.”

With the assistance of Young Life members, coordinators, and volunteers, Paulson said this year’s triathlon was “so smooth. Everything went down without a hitch.”

“It pulls off so excellently, there were no accidents, no problems, few injuries. It was just awesome.”

The morning of competition got underway with the first wave of men tackling the Olympic Course, plunging into the wavy waters of Detroit Lake for the 1.5 kilometer swim. The women, relay, and Sprint Course competitors followed closely behind.

The flowering rush which has plagued swimmers in past years has declined this summer, and race coordinators reported a sharp decrease in complaints about weedy conditions.

Detroit Lake also served as the backdrop for the biking and running portions of the event, as the road circling the body of water marked the routes.

City officials have been supportive of the event since it moved from the Castaway Club near Audubon to the heart of Detroit Lakes in 2007, and Paulson said, “the Chamber and Tourism Bureau have been spectacular.”

“The whole community has just opened the doors to make that happen,” he added.

A true sense of community lies at the core of the Young Life Triathlon, and the family friendly atmosphere caters to all ages and levels of experience.

Returning this year, Friday’s Family Fun Fest provided the opportunity to warm up for race day with the third annual open 5k run and  1k run for kids.

Paulson expressed plans to further enhance Friday’s activities in the future.

An experienced athlete, Sean Cooley of Grand Forks, N.D., returned to the Young Life Triathlon this summer, winning the Olympic Course race for the third year in a row.

“I guess the main reason I come back is the low-key atmosphere,” Cooley said. “Everyone is having a good time, and there’s not a lot of pressure.”

“I love the area of Detroit Lakes too: It’s just a fun town,” he added.

Cooley reflected that some members of his family, Mike and Nicklaus Hess, came and biked alongside him for a portion of the course, something that’s he appreciated as being possible only during a smaller event.

When asked if he has plans to return next summer to defend his title, Cooley replied, “absolutely.”

Cooley’s winning time of 1:58.57 was followed by David Lewis of Nevis, Minn., in second place, and Billy Brenden of Flagstaff, Ariz., finishing out the top three.

Melanie Carvell of Bismarck, N.D., won the women’s division of the Olympic Course, finishing in 2:21.33. In second place was Heather Harris of Grand Forks, N.D. and third place was claimed by Jody Mullet of Chaska, Minn.

Jay Jorgenson of Ogema claimed first place in the sprint division with a time of 1:00.30, followed in second place by Justin Domogalla of Staples, Minn., and Mike Johnson of Shakopee, Minn., in third.

Karin Gardner of Mandan, N.D., was the winning sprinter for the women, taking first with a time of 1:06.42. Tara Makinen of Grand Rapids, Minn., took second  and Kimberly Ault of Mound, Minn., finished in third.

This year, the winners of all four categories were entered in a drawing to win a weeklong trip donated by Cabo Villas.

“I love working with them. They always do their best to help us any way they can,” Paulson said of the resort.

Jorgenson, the winner of the men’s sprint race, was the lucky recipient of the prize, and winners of each age group and the top relays also received recognition.

This year’s event  was especially memorable for athlete Sadie Nistler, as she accepted a marriage proposal from Jeff Johnson at the finish line. It is the first engagement that has taken place at the Young Life Triathlon.

Paulson said that coordinators have already turned their focus to next year, which will mark both the tenth annual triathlon and the 40th anniversary for Lakes Area Young Life.

“It’s a really cool opportunity to make a difference,” Paulson said of the nondenominational group.

Funds raised by the triathlon provide crucial support for the missions of Young Life, ensuring that the program can endure for youth in the future.

Paulson addressed the necessity of reaching out to struggling kids and the impact adults can have in mentoring and guiding them to find a purpose. He added that it has been powerful to see the enduring impact that the youth ministry has made in the lives of those involved. For more information about Lakes Area Young Life, visit

Results and information about the Young Life Triathlon, part of the Tri Minnesota Series, can be found at

Libby Larson | DL Newspapers