Tag Archives: Saint Mary’s Hospital

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



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.


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.”


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.”




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.”


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

Grand Rapids Community Foundation Donor Party


VENUE: Kendall College of Art & Design of Ferris State University at the Historic Federal Building
DATE: September 28, 2012

When Diana Sieger and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) throw a party, the people come. Last Friday evening the Foundation held its annual donor celebration that included the presentation of the 2012 Jack Chaille Award for Community Philanthropy. Hundreds of those who support the GRCF newest addition of Kendall College of Art & Design’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, the historic Federal Building.

The group that gathered on Friday was essentially a “who’s who” of West Michigan philanthropists. Guests of honor John and Nancy Kennedy were joined by community leaders such as Ralph Hauenstein, Mike and Sue Jandernoa, John and Marie Canepa, Greg and Meg Willit, and countless others who are so supportive of the foundation’s efforts. They enjoyed hors d’oeuvres from YoChef’s Catering Company and great wine from Martha’s Vineyard. Conversation was lively, and the atmosphere was one of joyful celebration as everyone came together to toast the Kennedys and this community foundation that is near and dear to their hearts.

Midway through the event, everyone made their way into the auditorium where GRCF President Diana Sieger welcomed everyone and began with the fantastic news that during the 2011-12 fiscal year, the foundation raised over $20 million. They also made grants and scholarship awards of just over $11 million, supporting initiatives surrounding housing and education in West Michigan. The GRCF is one of Grand Rapids’ greatest assets, serving as a permanent endowment for our community.

Sieger then introduced GRCF Board Chair, Eva Aguirre Cooper of WOOD-TV. She noted the level of “strategy, seriousness, and diligence” that goes into each decision regarding which grants to recommend for approval, and recognized the trustees who were there on Friday night, including Wayman Britt, Paul Doyle, Carol Karr, Paul Keep, Christina Keller, and Cecile Cave Fehsenfeld. Also recognized were David Rosen, Kendall College President; and David Eisler, President of Ferris State University.

The program continued with the presentation of the 2012 Jack Chaille Award for Community Philanthropy. This year’s recipients were John and Nancy Kennedy. There was a beautiful video tribute to Kennedys that included comments from two of their children, and their friends Mike Jandernoa and Phil McCorkle. Sieger then invited the Kennedys to receive their award, and they had three of their four children with them—John, Margaret, and Tom. (Their son Paul was unable to attend)

The Chaille Award is given annually to GRCF donors who not only support the Community Foundation’s mission, but also many other community efforts. John Kennedy is President of Autocam and Nancy is a full-time community volunteer. They are involved with Grand Valley State University, University Prep School, Saint Mary’s Hospital, the Heart of West Michigan United Way, the Catholic Schools of Grand Rapids, and of course the Community Foundation. John was part of the original committee for grant distribution, and they established Employees of Autocam Fund at the GRCF. The Kennedys also made a leadership gift to help secure the new building for the foundation. All four of their children have served on the GRCF Youth Grant Committee, and both Margaret and Tom served as the Youth Trustee on the board.

John and Nancy Kennedy are the supporters every nonprofit dreams of having. They are engaged 100 percent with each cause they are involved in and as Diana Sieger said, they are “great examples of people who give from their hearts. They are not only generous with their financial gifts, but they are active and very engaged volunteers. When they are behind something, a project or a cause, their time, talent, and treasure go into it. They are purposeful about their philanthropy and only take on causes to which they can fully dedicate themselves.”

Sieger then presented the Kennedys with their award, which is different for each recipient every year. The Community Foundation created an invitation package for the event this year that, when put together, formed a beautiful poster. The Kennedys were given a framed copy of this poster for their home, which was very fitting being that the award was given during ArtPrize and in one of the largest venues for the event. It was truly a work of art!

Friday night’s event was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank; PNC, Varnum, LLP; AMBS Investment Council LLC; Baker Holtz CPAs and Advisors; The Bank of Holland; Ellis Parking Company; JPMorgan Private Bank; Lafleur & Godfrey Inc.; Merrill Lynch; and Northern Trust.

Thank you to Diana Sieger and the entire staff of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for all of your hard work and dedication to our community, and congratulations on a remarkable year! Stellafly is very excited to see what this year will bring!