Meet the Cleveland Triathlon Club

By Dustin Renwick | Aug. 07, 2019, 12:02 p.m. (ET)

Cleveland Tri Club

Athletes at the Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships won’t need to search long to see the presence of one local triathlon team.

“Last year I spent a lot of time shaking hands and welcoming people as they waited for packet pickup,” saysJeff Uzl, president of the Cleveland Tri Club. “It’s not every day that I get to welcome 3,000 or so triathletes into my city.”

Uzl and other club members will again host a booth at the expo to answer questions and pass out a commemorative Cleveland souvenir. 

But the club will also provide athletes something much less tangible. Cyclists and runners in need of an extra push should look for some words of encouragement by the roadside.

“About a week before nationals, we’re going to have a sign decorating party,” Uzl says. “The night before the race, there will be a handful of us out peppering these along the course.”

That type of hospitality has helped Uzl and the club build a membership of around 400 people since the group first gathered in 2003.

“We’ve really seen an increase in physical activity with our current population,” the lifelong Cleveland resident says. “It’s trickled into our sport. It doesn’t become a bucket list thing for them, it becomes part of their lifestyle.”

Uzl entered the multisport world after running a marathon, and he’ll race the sprint distance at nationals. Plenty of other CTC members will also run, bike, and swim alongside thousands of top age-groupers from around the United States.

Barb Thomas, a member of the CTC Board of Directors, will compete in both the sprint- and Olympic-distances clad in her club’s wine and gold colorway that matches the city’s NBA team, the Cavaliers.

She credits the triathlon club’s growth with its diversity of distances and educational opportunities. The team trains for everything from supersprints to IRONMANs, and club members regularly offer their expertise with clinics that cover all aspects of the multisport world.

“We get a lot more people out there to get healthy,” she says. “We have doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, people who have lost weight, people in their 60s, 70s, 80s. It can be social. It can be competitive.”

Thomas raced her first triathlons before raising children and returned to multisport alongside her family at various events. 

She has also worked to bring the sport to a new generation of triathletes who aren’t related to her. This year marks her second volunteer coaching stint with the USA Triathlon Tri for Change program, a development initiative that introduces at-risk and underserved youth to the physical skills of three triathlon disciplines as well as the life values that come along with sports participation.

“Last year, I taught all the kids how to swim,” says Thomas, a swimmer since childhood. “That was our main focus.” 

Other CTC members even paired up one-to-one with the 2018 cohort during the first open water swim to provide extra support.

The current group has about a dozen kids who have met with Thomas and other coaches for two hours a day, twice a week for 10 weeks. CTC has coordinated with USA Triathlon and local sponsors to arrange donations for snacks and equipment — from swimsuits to bikes to running shoes — to help make this year’s training program a success.

“We talk about health, nutrition, safety, being part of a team,” Thomas says. “Tri for Change is not about winning or losing. It’s about doing your best. We focus too much now on, ‘They’ve got to have a trophy, they’ve got to win.’ Our emphasis should really be on fun.”

Adult participants at nationals can cheer on the youngest competitors at the Tri for Change triathlon, scheduled for 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, August 10 at Edgewater Beach Park.