RD Diary: Talk to Jim

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of 13 weekly articles originally published on Slowtwitch in 2003. The articles chronicle newbie RD Jeff Henderson's journey toward the production of his first race: the Musselman Triathlon in Upstate New York. After these 13 weeks worth of diary entries, we'll flow directly into a new series Jeff is writing for us, where he talks about his challenges and goals now, as he prepares for Year-7 of Musselman.

I've decided to hold a triathlon this summer. Living in San Francisco has taught me that the economics of supply and demand are way out of kilter and there is a rabid population willing to sink its teeth into anything involving more than one sport in rapid succession. And armed with the esteemed Mr. Empfield's white paper on "How to Hold a Race" (henceforth to be known as the EWP), I have a bit of guidance on how to begin. Let me explain my plans.

Last month I returned from a year in Europe traveling and covering the triathlon beat for various U.S. publications. I am now settled in central New York state, hunkered down in the Finger Lakes region in anticipation of snow, ice, and hazardous driving conditions. I am not new to this - I grew up just outside of Syracuse and have had my share of winter's brutality.

But I look out my window and I see an area that couldn't be more suited for a major triathlon. The eleven lakes that make up the Finger Lakes region are clear and clean, the roads are empty of traffic, and state and county parks dot the countryside. Last year the state of New York granted the city of Geneva, on the northern edge of Seneca Lake, $1.2 million to expand tourism in the region. Geneva still has a small-town charm to it, but with The College of Hobart & William Smith just off downtown, the hotels, parking, and restaurants are in place to handle an influx of visitors.

Though I have not lived in New York for ten years, my family has roots here and the Henderson name is known 'round these parts. My great-grandfather piloted a steamship that made 40-mile runs from Watkins Glen, on the south shore, to Geneva on the north shore. My grandmother taught first grade in Geneva for 45 years; you can't go anywhere without running into someone she taught to read. Four generations of Hendersons have belonged to the Masonic Lodge, and my brother still lives here. This kind of traction could prove beneficial while building a triathlon.

Regardless of who I know or who knows the Hendersons, according to the EWP I am already way behind schedule. I want to hold the race in July, to avoid conflicting with the Tupper Lake Half in June, Ironman USA in Lake Placid, and the Timberman half ironman in New Hampshire in late August. I should have my race committee in place and online registration going live yesterday, but first I need to secure permits - no permits, no risk manager needed.

Dan's EWP says to start at the top, so to the top I went. The city of Geneva has a mayor, but a little poking around revealed this is a part-time position and he's not in charge of much. The man I want is Richard Reising, the City Manager with an office at City Hall on Castle Street. I walked in yesterday and his secretary intercepted me. "Can I help you?"

"I'd like to schedule a meeting with Mr. Reising," I replied. "It's about holding an event this summer in Geneva." As soon as the words dribbled across my lips, I knew I had made a mistake.

"You have to go to the Parks & Rec offices to apply for permits. Do you know where they're located?"

So I'm new at this and not very good at infiltrating The System. But I wasn't done. I walked down through town and entered the Geneva Bicycle Center, a rather large bike shop where I had borrowed a Cannondale a few years ago for the NYC Triathlon. The owner, Jim, was inside with his son. I told Jim my thoughts.

He informed me that a triathlon already exists on Seneca Lake, but as it is held in May the swim is a canoe because the water is too cold so early in the year. The Presbyterian Church has run it for twenty years as a fundraiser for the Food Bank.

"You should talk with Reverend Jim Gerling," Jim informed me. "The race has stagnated in recent years and perhaps he would be interested in working with you to create a better event. I think the possibilities for explosion are out there if he just gets rid of that canoeing."

I had met Reverend Gerling two years ago when my family accompanied my grandmother for Christmas Eve service. He is an active, friendly, dynamic man. As much as I want to hold this race, I do not want to inhibit his efforts to raise money for charity. Doing so would not only besmirch my family's name in Geneva, but probably also condemn me to eternal damnation. That's something I'm not prepared to take on at this point in life.

I called him up and we have an appointment tomorrow morning in church. As part of the greater vision for this race, I am going to write regular articles here on slowtwitch on my preparations, a proof-of-concept to accompany the EWP. If we get that far, I'll let you know why you are paying $150 (or whatever it ends up being) for entry fees, how complicated the permit process is, what local businesses are interested in sponsorships, and a million other things that had to happen before you rack your bike. I hope we get that far, because I am convinced this Geneva would be a lovely place for a race.