Triathlon reacts to O’Rourke’s exit

FAIRMONT – The Fairmont Triathlon was on hiatus for nearly 20 years when local fitness enthusiasts Michael O’Rourke and Phil Hanson revived it in 2007.

O’Rourke remembers Hanson walking into his office that spring and convincing him to try putting on a triathlon during that summer’s Interlaken Heritage Days Festival.

“I didn’t think there was sufficient time,” O’Rourke said, “but Phil said let’s do it anyway and see how it turns out. So we did, and we were really surprised by the outcome.”

The competition, split into Olympic and sprint classes, drew 150 participants that first year. Last year, 209 athletes competed, and online registrations are up so far this year.

According to Hanson, O’Rourke was instrumental in making sure the triathlon went smoothly from beginning to end, for participants and spectators, with help from his wife, Noella, her family and the numerous volunteers they recruited to help on race day.

While O’Rourke modestly insists it has been a group effort from the beginning, there is no denying the time and labor he and his family put into the event. Giving a conservative estimate, O’Rourke figures the time added up to 600-plus hours per year.

For his part in the success of not only the triathlon but also the formation of Fairmont Multisport Club, O’Rourke is hailed as a local champion of physical fitness for people of all athletic abilities. That’s why when he announced he was leaving Fairmont to take a job in Bloomington as in-house counsel for Nationwide Insurance, Hanson was worried.

“My reaction was ‘Oh man,'” he said with a groan, holding his head in his hands as he recalled hearing the news that O’Rourke would not be in charge of the 2013 triathlon. Hanson’s replay of the scene brought a laugh from the new committee members who have stepped forward to make sure the triathlon continues.

About a dozen people from throughout south-central Minnesota have signed up to help organize the event, all of them new to the committee, with the exception of Hanson. They are dividing the workload primarily carried in the past by O’Rourke and his family.

“What we’re trying to do this year is break it up, compartmentalize it. Then we’ll each write up a synopsis of what we did, so somebody else can pick it up in future years,” explained Fairmont resident Dick Gerhardt, who is organizing the running portion of the competition, which includes marking the route, controlling traffic and setting up water stations.

Laura Larsen of Blue Earth is in charge of registration and the contact person for anyone interested in volunteering on race day. Erin Purrington of Windom agreed to take over the triathlon website. The list goes on.

“I feel so grateful to all these people who have stepped up,” Hanson said.

Anyone who would like to volunteer to assist with tasks on race day can call Larsen at (612) 247-5962. Jobs range from course marshals, to direct participants on the routes, to distributing food, to applying numbers to participants, and more.

“We’ll have plenty of things for them to do,” Larsen said.

Though O’Rourke will not be helping with this year’s triathlon, he will be competing in it.

“I’m registered this year,” he said, “so this will be the first year I can participate, because I don’t have to administer the event, so I’m looking forward to that.”

“My goal,” he added, “is just to finish, and I might add respectably.”