Faces of the Grandman: Harriet King Ingraham

Mobile Baykeeper is hosting the 13th Annual Publix Grandman Triathlon on Saturday, June 3 at 7 a.m. at the Fairhope Pier. The event is a sprint triathlon consisting of a 1/3-mile swim, 18.6 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run along beautiful Mobile Bay. Click here to register today! 

Faces of the Grandman: Harriet King Ingraham

Our latest installment of "Faces of the Grandman" features Harriet King Ingraham, veteran water safety coordinator of the Grandman who has been heavily involved with the race for all 13 years. She talks about her experience with the race, why she thinks water safety is the most important part of the race, and what she enjoys most about being involved with the Grandman. 

You’ve been a big part of the Grandman since Day 1. How did you first get involved with the race?

Well originally it was the Pelican Point Triathlon for the first few years until Baykeeper took it over. I got involved early on helping out with water safety. I was President of the Mobile Bay Canoe & Kayak Club at the time and we were a big active group of kayakers. I’ve always been keenly interested in water quality and protecting our natural resources so it’s great to support an event like the Grandman that promotes the betterment of the bay. Baykeeper has always held a deep place in my heart.

As Swim Captain, what is your primary role on race day?

We’re there primarily for safety, but we’re also there to encourage the swimmers and get them through the race. Some swimmers can only swim a certain distance and they have to hold onto the kayaks. It’s very rewarding in that respect. We encourage every single swimmer that goes by.

Unless you’re out in the swim, you don’t really recognize how stressful it can be on our end. It’s 45 minutes of constant moving and communication. My team does really well. Many of them come back year after year, but for the new ones, I put them through a strong verbal test to find out where they are. It’s not a casual thing, and my team knows that. This isn’t play time – it’s really serious stuff. I think water safety is the most important aspect of this race. That’s our biggest priority.

This isn’t really playtime - it’s serious stuff. I think water safety is the most important aspect of the race. That’s our biggest priority.”

Most first-time triathletes seem to be most hesitant about the swim course versus running or biking. What advice do you have for them?

It’s so much different than swimming in a pool. You really need to get out there and practice in open water before the race. You also have to factor in the turbulence from all of the other swimmers. Your body moves in there differently than when you’re swimming by yourself in a pool.

What do you think about the new swim start?

New to the 2017 race, swimmers will jump from two finger piers to begin the race, instead of only jumping from one pier as in past year. Click the image to enlarge. 

New to the 2017 race, swimmers will jump from two finger piers to begin the race, instead of only jumping from one pier as in past year. Click the image to enlarge. 

I’m excited to see how it works out. Adding the second finger pier will definitely speed the race up. It will be a bigger mass of people going through so I’m very curious to see everything. A lot of it will depend on the wind and where it pushes the buoys. Sometimes people can get disoriented out there. Hopefully we won’t have any wind that morning.

We hear racers often say how safe they feel during the swim course. As Swim Captain, tell us how you make the course to be as safe as possible.

I think a lot of it has something to do with the number of kayaks we have in the water – ideally between 30-35. Swimmers feel very safe when they’re out there and see all of us looking out for them. We make our presence known. Swimmers that aren’t as strong know that they can take a break and hold onto the boats if they need to. I know where some of the critical points are on the course when fatigue or panic may start to set in for some of them. It gives the swimmers an added sense of security. We tell them we’re going to be with them the whole way, and we are. At the end of the race, they always recognize that we’re the ones who saw them in the water and thank us.

How do you prepare your team before the race?

About half of them have come back year after year and know the drill. I usually start getting my team organized by February. Because I know their skill levels, I don’t have to train anyone in terms of kayaking abilities. I stay in constant communication with them leading up to the race. On race day, we always have a meeting an hour before the race begins to walk through everything – how to communicate with swimmers, how to offer for help without breaking any race rules, how to not be in the way, etc. There’s a lot to go over. I have to know everyone’s personalities and whether they can think quickly and make a good judgment call in the case of an emergency.

Do you have any funny moments or fond memories that stick out to you over the years?

About two years ago, one of our kayakers came up to me in the middle of the swim and gave me a wedding ring that a swimmer gave to him. He said a swimmer handed this to me in the middle of the swim and asked us to hold it for him because he was afraid he was going to lose it. It’s that type of thing that’s really neat. Swimmers trust us when they’re on the course.

What can you say about the importance of the volunteers? We wouldn’t be able to do it without you and many others who have been involved since the beginning.

The whole organization of the event keeps getting better year after year. When you have such a veteran group of people that come back each time, it really makes it a well-oiled machine. You couldn’t put this race on without the volunteers, and I’m amazed that such a small group of people is able to pull off an event of this size and caliber. It’s very impressive to me.

What’s the most rewarding part of being involved with the Grandman?

To see these athletes cross the finish line, to me, is one of the best parts. It’s one thing for the experienced racers who race year after year – they’re true athletes and do this all the time. It’s the last pack of racers that always intrigues me. Not all of them are “athletes” and I’d have no idea they could complete something like this. To see them come through – cramping or exhausted – fills me with so much pride for them and respect that they finished the race and achieved such a great accomplishment.

Also, for me personally, the deep exhale once I know the last swimmer is safe. Then I know we did our job. We’re out there on our own in the water. We are on high alert during the swim course and the timing of everything has to be perfect. I’m pretty anxious until I see that last swimmer finish the course.

“To see them come through - cramping or exhausted - fills me with so much pride and respect that they finished the race and achieved such a great accomplishment.”