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Grand Rapids Triathlon – A look inside the mind of an athlete

 

STORY: BRIAN VANOCHTEN
PHOTOS: RAEANNA ANGLEN

ADA – The pain-and-pleasure addicts who push their minds, bodies and souls to their uppermost limits as triathletes are part of a unique brotherhood and sisterhood that no one else quite understands.

No one but them.

A lot of their friends and family can’t comprehend what possesses seemingly normal men and women to spend countless hours preparing to swim, run and bike long distances for no apparent reason – other than proving something to themselves about their mental and physical toughness and being able to tolerate pain.

The challenging sequence in a triathlon features:

  • An open-water swim of 750 meters to 1.2 miles.
  • A bicycle ride of anywhere from 12 to 56 miles.
  • And, finally, a road run ranging from 5K (3.1 miles) to the half-marathon distance of 13.1 miles.

It’s the punishment that gives them so much pleasure.

“I just have a passion for it,” said Abby Geurink, 29, a professional triathlete from Hudsonville, who’ll be defending her women’s Sprint title in the third-annul Grand Rapids Triathlon on Sunday, June 9, in Ada and Cascade. “People wonder sometimes, ‘How is that really fun?’ I don’t expect everyone to understand.

“It’s a lot of character building for me. I’ve learned a lot about mental toughness competing in triathlons. I think we can get pretty obsessed. Definitely, there’s a little bit of obsession. I just think it’s hard not to get obsessed because you spend so much time in this sport preparing for these races and just pushing yourself.

“I spend 15 to 18 hours a week training. I like to challenge myself. It’s fun for me.”

It’s a passion – or perhaps an addiction, obsession or compulsion – shared by about 1,500 triathletes preparing to test themselves by swimming, biking and running to the point of exhaustion in what is fast becoming one of the preeminent races in the state of Michigan. The Grand Rapids Triathlon attracted 900 participants in its inaugural year, swelled to 1,200 last year and is approaching 1,500 this year.

The race is sponsored by Huntington Bank and Fox Motors.

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Up for the personal challenge

It attracts all ages, shapes and sizes.

The ages of entrants last summer spanned from 13 to 78 and included several families, from fathers and sons and mothers and daughters to a grandmother-mother-daughter triumvirate that race co-director Andy Vidro exemplifies just how far-reaching the passion for the sport has become through the years.

Andy and Ann Vidro are the lead organizers of the Grand Rapids Triathlon.

“It’s fantastic to see the diversity of ages and sizes of people,” he said. “Everybody’s cheering for each other out there. Everybody’s pulling for everyone else to finish. The finish line is so inspiring. It’s not the first ones that finish that gets everyone so excited; it’s the last ones that finish that inspire us all.”

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A pair of girlfriends from Jenison, Kat Gillespie, 24, and Maggie Thome, 25, are looking forward to participating in their first triathlon. Both plan to compete in Sprint Division, consisting of a .47-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 5K run. Both are equally determined to prove they’re prepared to meet the challenge.

“I just want to say I’ve done one and be part of an elite club,” said Thome, a social worker at Saint Mary’s Hospital. “The running and biking don’t scare me. I don’t like putting my face in the water, so I have to get over that. I need to swim more in open water, not a pool, but it’s been cold and I just got a wetsuit.”

Gillespie prodded her friend to tackle the intimidating task together.

“The personal challenge is what it’s all about,” said Gillespie, a social media specialist at Jemco Logics who has completed the Fifth Third River Bank Run. “The training motivates you to get up every day and work out. My parents think I’m nuts. They’ll ask me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I’m doing it for the challenge.”

It’s ultimately why Geurink got involved in triathlons in the first place.

The former all-state swimmer from Grand Haven High School and Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion from Calvin College had been a competitive athlete most of her life. Once she finished college, she just couldn’t turn off her competitive passion. She desperately needed an outlet for it.

Friends recommended she enter a triathlon. She got hooked right from the start.

“I remember that first one,” Geurink said of the 2003 Reeds Lake Triathlon in East Grand Rapids. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to borrow a bike. It had this big leather seat that chafed me. I couldn’t get it off the rack. There were a lot of little things I learned that first time, but I had fun.

“And I just keep coming back for more.”

It helps that Geurink, part of the Tri4Him faith-based team from Dallas, has her husband’s support. He also is a triathlete. The couple trains together and takes its vacations around the triathlon schedule.

“If my husband wasn’t a supporter, it would be hard because you put so many hours into training. If you’re both into it, there’s just a level of understanding, which is important,” said Geurink, a speech language pathologist for Grand Haven Public Schools. “It really has sort of become our hobby.”

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Members of the same tribe

A triathlon is one of the most unique accomplishments on life’s bucket list.

It’s not for everyone, but, for those inspired to pursue it, there is no greater natural high, according to Huntington Bank marketing director Michael Lindley, 59, of Grand Rapids, a dedicated triathlete.

“Once you get the triathlon bug, it becomes more of a lifestyle than a sport,” Lindley said. “Year-round, you are more more in tune with your nutrition and fitness. It’s also a tremendous personal challenge. You push yourself to continue to improve your swimming, biking and running – always trying to set a new personal best in your next race. Then there is the ultimate challenge of the 140.6-mile ‘Ironman’ race.

“I’ll be doing my first (Ironman Triathlon) in North Carolina in October.”

Lindley is at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to pain-and-pleasure addiction. He’ll push himself to the far reaches of his mental and physical spirit by swimming 2.4 miles, then riding a bike 112 miles and, finally, going for a nice leisurely run at the full marathon distance of 26.2 miles.

What inspires him to keep pushing so hard?

It’s part challenge, part fitness and, perhaps most of all, fellowship. The minds and spirits of triathletes are so similar and tribe-like – much the same as marathoners – they take immense pleasure in talking about their pain while, at the same time, forming unflinching friendships that end up lasting a lifetime.

“Ultimately, a triathlon is just plain fun, even through all the training and pain,” Lindley insisted. “You never meet nicer, more supportive people than the morning of a triathlon. Everybody’s very supportive.”

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Todd Lawrence, 24, of Grand Rapids, is addicted to the triathlete lifestyle.

“If you can do it, why not? Some people understand. I’d say 75 percent of people don’t understand why I do what I do. I get up at 5 a.m. and train three hours every day from 5 to 8 a.m., before going to school and work,” said Lawrence, a Grand Rapids Community College student and part-time Olive Garden server. “To me, it beats going out to the bar at night. I eat, sleep and drink triathlons.

“My goal is to become an elite triathlete or a professional.”

Mark Mochel, 43, of Grand Rapids, will compete at the longest distance in the Grand Rapids Triathlon. He is building toward his ultimate goal of entering an Ironman Triathlon, which doubles the full distance.

“I get up at 4 a.m. to train every morning. It’s not for everybody, but it’s my thing,” said the husband and father of two children ages 7 and 11. “I’ve actually grown to love that early morning time. You’re out there all by yourself, it’s so peaceful and I get to watch the sunrise.

“My dream is to do a full Ironman someday,” the vice president of professional services for Compliance Systems, Inc., added. “That takes a whole other level of training. I will do one someday. I’m just working my way up to it.”

Not everyone understands his obsession. But that’s all right.

“For me, it’s a personal journey. In the midst of a busy work life and a busy family life, I just wanted to do this for myself. I originally started doing this to get into shape. It’s something for me that helps keep me grounded in other parts of my life,” Mochel said. “It’s a fraternity of sorts. The only way to be a part of it is to do it.”

It is an almost indescribable passion – or perhaps an addiction, obsession, compulsion – shared by triathletes.

“I can’t really explain it to other people,” Mochel said. “It is part pleasure and part pain. It’s only me that can swim the strokes, push the pedals and run the steps. There’s something extremely fulfilling in crossing the finish line.”

To learn more about the Grand Rapids Triathlon, visit the website: http://www.grandrapidstriathlon.com
LIKE them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrandRapidsTriathlon

Steve Frazee and Bill Holsinger-Robinson: Your guides to tending the local economic rainforest.

 

By Brian VanOchten
Photographer Terry Johnston

GRAND RAPIDS – Imagine a place where the most creative minds in West Michigan congregate on a regular basis Monday through Friday to share ideas and collaborate on projects that shape the business landscape.

It is the very place Steve Frazee and Bill Holsinger-Robinson are designing.

Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson, co-founders of HUB Grand Rapids, are leading a plan that combines a stimulating workplace with a highly charged social atmosphere where the seeds of regional economic development are planted and nurtured to produce positive outcomes in the community.

You might think of it as Facebook with bricks and mortar, windows and floors, inner-glass partitions, coffee stations, offices and common areas that form the epicenter of local economic growth.

“Imagine HUB Grand Rapids is the social club of the most creative and forward-thinking people in the community,” said Frazee, whose personal bio at hubgrandrapids.com aptly describes him as an entrepreneur, consultant and evangelist for the power of business to create a healthy world. “You’re in your office and you’ve got a team of people who are tying to solve your problem or innovate something, and they’re like, ‘We need to get away from the office. Where do we go?’ They’ll go to HUB Grand Rapids.”

It’s not just a concept: HUB is set to become a reality in 2013.

Investment dollars are lining up from impressive local sources, and both Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson, who ran ArtPrize during its first 2½ years of existence, are close to announcing more than 10,000 square feet of office space in a building located within the technological SmartZone in Grand Rapids.

Full details about the location are expected to be forthcoming this month.

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“It’s all about developing a community of creative people, knowledge workers. It’s the core of the super-creative class – the 3 percent of the community who do most of the creative work,” Frazee said. “We’re bringing those people together and giving them things to start to make their lives more interesting and effective.

“We don’t have a space yet, but you can do a lot of work without a space.”

Already, HUB Grand Rapids has received a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Additionally, it has garnered regional support from the following: Adtegrity; Atomic Object; Cascade Engineering; Huntington Bank; Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Grand Valley State University; Huron River Ventures; Spectrum Innovations; StartGarden; and the City of Grand Rapids.

Varnum is on board as the legal partner for the project.

The goal is to attract participants at three levels: investors, partners and members.

It’ll require 50 initial members as anchor tenants, about half of which already have pledged support to the project, according to Holsinger-Robinson, a self-described entrepreneur, strategist, design thinker, technophile and change agent. He sees unlimited potential for HUB Grand Rapids.

It just requires a different mindset to comprehend the infinite possibilities.

“I don’t know if its a new way to do business or if it’s a really old way to do business,” Holsinger-Robinson said. “To a certain extent, it’s about bringing motivated people together to do some really good work in the community, that’s not locked down for single purposes. It’s just getting smart about what our needs are as a community, and it’s a community where we’re trying to drive growth and innovation.”

It has the potential to be as simple – and as productive – as that.

“This is one of the best ways to drive growth and innovation. As a community, if we were specifically all about driving wealth creation and efficiencies, we’d have a very different sort of model,” said Holsinger-Robinson, co-founder of GR Collective and the Frederik Meijer Endowed Honors Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Grand Valley State. “So much depends on economic constraints, but we’re in a very different space right now where different sets of specific skills and talents are valued again. It’s about the super-creative core of classes that we need to focus on and harness to the best of its abilities.”

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Nurturing ideas in the rainforest

The HUB is the place where social interaction meets entrepreneurship.

Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson were inspired to press forward with plans for HUB Grand Rapids after listening to author Greg Horowitt, whose book “The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley” during a speaking appearance in Grand Rapids in October. They share Horowitt’s outlook that social networks in places like HUB will spur innovation that changes how business is done in the future.

“Human systems become more productive the faster that the key ingredients of innovation, talent, ideas and capital are allowed to flow throughout the system,” Horowitt explains in the book. “Ironically, the greatest economic value is created in transactions between people who are the most different from one another.”

HUBs are an important part of the new ecosystem of innovative thinking.

There are social entrepreneurship clubs in the following locations in North America: Atlanta; Bay Area (San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif.); Boston; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Los Angeles; New York; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. Another location is being planned for the Detroit area.

Additional HUBs have been planted around the globe: Amsterdam; Brussels; Bucharest; Copenhagen; Dubai; Helsinki; Johannesburg; London; Madrid; Melbourne; Milan; Prague; Rotterdam; Rome; Sao Paulo; Stockholm; Tel Aviv; Vienna; and Zurich. Others are popping up in far-off places all the time.

“It’s a big deal to have one here,” Frazee insisted.

The economic-gardening concept continues to spread.

“You’ve got to get a lot of people together trying a lot of experiments. That’s what happens in the rainforest. A lot of stuff grows, some stuff dies, it’s very organic and it all sort of feeds on itself,” Frazee said. “That’s a new way of thinking compared to the old post-industrialist metaphors that were mechanical and productivity based – with conveyor belts and machinery and cogs. Instead, this is all organic and biologically based.

“What Bill and I are doing is bringing our part to growing the rainforest in West Michigan – the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation. We’re tending that. HUB Grand Rapids is going to be such a fertile spot because it has so much creativity packed into one area,” he added. “It’s the right time because, if you look at what’s happening in preparing West Michigan for the economic future, there’s some catch-up work that has to be done. Specifically around social enterprises, which are businesses with positive human outcomes. There are a lot of people in this area that don’t even know that phrase.”

In the economic rainforest, all things are possible.

“I’ve got an idea and I want to develop it. Where do I go? That’s really the space we want to play in,” Holsinger-Robinson said. “In farming, you predict your yield all of the time within a couple of bushels. Typically, you’re looking for the same yield over and over and over again. It’s repeatable, it’s predictable. The rainforest pretty much is not. It’s about cultivating whatever works well in that particular season and giving it time and a whole series of conditions that you don’t have control over.

“It’s not one crop that we’re looking to harvest. It’s a multitude of things.”

Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson have experience in tending the economic garden.

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Frazee founded TEDxGrandRapids, part of a non-profit organization that stimulates independent events surrounding technology, entertainment and design in communities around the world. He sees HUB as the next logical step in the evolutionary process of doing business differently in Grand Rapids in the future.

“The new world of economics is about collaboration. It’s about sharing ideas, about working to make things better. It’s not so much ‘me’ against ‘you.’ It’s ‘us’ working together,” Frazee explained. “That frame is so new for some people who built their success on the old-school competition model that we’ll have to spend a lot of time educating and talking and bringing them into this new way of thinking and building trust. If you’re used to a competitive ‘us’ versus ‘them’ model, we’re talking about building the ‘we’ space where we all work together.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift. That’s hard. It’s the hardest thing we have to do right now.”

Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson are enlightening more and more local people.

“We have lots of conversations,” Frazee said. “One of the reasons I like this area is there’s a chance to have an impact. You can have an impact in crafting the personality of the area, because that’s what’s happening right now. It’s not fully baked right now, whereas, if you go other places, it’s already fully baked.

“The old models are based on hierarchial command and control. So, somebody has to be in command and control,” he said of changing the thinking about doing business as usual. “Some of the work we’ve done recently and talking to people about what we’re doing, there’s a lot of, ‘What’s going to be the actual outcome?’ This is self-organizing, which is the way everything is going. It’s a biological metaphor.”

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How it all fits together

HUB Grand Rapids will serve all sorts of people in the business community.

The fund-raising goal of $500,000 is expected to come from anchor tenants or investors, participating businesses that rent space in the building and individuals wanting to be part of the collaborative atmosphere. If all goes well, Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson said the HUB location could open by May.

There are a multitude of membership levels (monthly dues):

  • HUB Club ($25): All events and online global community access.
  • HUB Supporter ($149): Four days per month facility access, plus HUB Club.
  • HUB Member ($275): Daily facility access Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., plus HUB Club.
  • HUB Curator ($395): 24/7 keyed access to the facility, additional benefits, plus HUB Club.
  • HUB Individual Sponsor ($150): Three HUB Curator memberships.
  • HUB Office Small/Team ($995+): 150 square feet or more of private office space, plus two or more HUB Curator memberships.
  • HUB Corporate Sponsor ($995+): Includes three rotating HUB member daily access and sponsor privileges.

The makeup of HUB Grand Rapids is 30 percent community space (kitchens and lounge areas where social interaction rules), 30 percent hot-desking space (individuals on a first-come, first-served basis) and 40 percent small/team offices (comprised of four to six people occupying permanent spaces in the building).

The initial goal is for 231 members in the first year of operation.

That number is expected to more than double to 464, reaching full capacity in subsequent years.

“The HUB network is a huge global trend,” Frazee said. “This is not a new idea, it”s just new here. All of these facilities have been able to raise the start-up capital from their communities. We’ll get there.”

HUB Grand Rapids hosted an introductory gathering prior to Thanksgiving.

It was the first of what Frazee and Holsinger-Robinson promise are many more events spotlighting the organization in the months ahead as it finalizes preparations for becoming part of the actual landscape here.

“In many ways, Grand Rapids is an amazing place, which is why I’m here. In many ways, however, it’s behind the times. Why is this the right time for HUB Grand Rapids? Bill and I are trying to bring West Michigan into the future – and not just following what other people have done, but really trying to lead,” Frazee said.

“I feel confident by the middle of next year, this will be one of the key places to hang out to get things going with truly awesome people. The expectation is that when corporations send their people here, magic will happen,” he added. “That’s our job – to create an environment where the magic happens.”

Holsinger-Robinson is looking forward to that coffee-shop atmosphere taking shape. He and Frazee have consulted with architects and designers, had a local construction firm prepare a bid for the planned space and expect to formally announce those plans in January or announce HUB Grand Rapids is seeking a different space.

Either way, it’s all happening.

“It’s the best of the places where you go when you need to get heads-down work done. It’s the best of the social environments where you go to share ideas. It’s the best place you go where it’s business, or even as an individual, you’re excited to see your brand be a part of it, and you’re proud to show your logo around the building,” Holsinger-Robinson said. “It’s a coffee shop. It’s a little loud, a little cozy and you know everybody when you walk in. You not only share social things with them, but you also open yourself up to vulnerabilities to share that crazy idea you had in the shower this morning.”

He explains all of this, naturally, while sipping coffee at a hot spot on Wealthy Street SE.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a rainforest or a coffee shop metaphor. HUB Grand Rapids is putting the most creative minds in local business in the same space to collaborate on difference-making ideas.

“That’s why so much cool stuff happens in coffee shops,” Holsinger-Robinson said.

To learn more about HUB Grand Rapids, visit their website: http://www.HUBGrandRapids.com

LIKE HUB Grand Rapids on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HUBGrandRapids

Follow HUB Grand Rapids on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hubgrandrapids