My Full-Circle Journey to the Grandman Triathlon

by Hanlon Walsh,
former Communications Director at Mobile Baykeeper

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I remember my first time experiencing the Grandman Triathlon like it was yesterday. As a wide-eyed intern in Summer 2015 eager to get involved any way I could, I joined the Mobile Baykeeper team just weeks before the race and was immediately thrown into the Grandman gauntlet… just like any summer intern at Mobile Baykeeper. At the time, I knew very little about hosting events at all, much less a sprint triathlon that attracts 800 racers from across the Southeast and raises a significant amount of funding to support Mobile Baykeeper’s mission.

I remember spending practically 36 hours straight at the Fairhope Pier during race weekend setting up the course, working the race, and breaking everything down, all in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I remember the energy I felt on race morning being surrounded by hundreds of racers and volunteers each doing their part to prepare for the race to kick off. I remember how exciting it was to watch racers receive their awards and celebrate their accomplishments together at the post-race party. I remember being impressed that such a small, scrappy group of staff and volunteers could pull off an event of this caliber without a hitch.  

This was the moment I first got a glimpse into how special of a race the Grandman truly is. It’s hard to describe…but many of us who have been bitten by the “Grandman bug” know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the reason there are so many loyal supporters who keep coming back year after year: the veteran triathletes who constantly push themselves to the limit; the first-timers who take a leap outside of their comfort zone and instantly become hooked; the core group of volunteers who know the Grandman like the back of their hand and have helped it become such a well-oiled machine over the last 15 years;

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the Mobile Baykeeper team who pours their heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, mornings, evenings, and weekends into this labor of love for six straight months to ensure the Grandman remains one of the safest, most fun, and well-organized races in the region; the loyal sponsors (Hey Publix…looking at you) who provide the financial support needed to create the best race experience possible; and the enthusiastic spectators, friends, and family members who line the race course and help cheer on every racer to the finish line.  

Ever since volunteering for my first Grandman in 2015, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to experience the race from the other side as a racer. Soon enough, while working as a full-time staff member at Mobile Baykeeper from 2016-2018, my initial curiosity of racing grew much stronger after living and breathing the Grandman for the last three years. So much that I can still recite the 30-second PSAs we wrote to promote the race on local radio stations and I could go on for days about why the Grandman is the perfect race for first-timers, veterans, or relay teams.

I’m not sure what it was about this event that motivated me to be a racer, but somewhere along the way the Grandman lit a fire inside me that changed my mindset from “what if” to “why not?” Maybe it was hearing incredible stories from other triathletes on what inspired them to race for the first time. Maybe it was witnessing racers of all ages, backgrounds, experience, and fitness levels cross the finish line and accomplish something they might have never thought was possible. Maybe it was realizing firsthand the amount of effort it takes to host this event and how critical of a role it plays in supporting Mobile Baykeeper’s work for clean water, clean air, and healthy communities.

Whatever it was, I knew that one day I was determined to be on the other side of that finish line. Every Grandman racer has their own story to tell – their motivation, struggles, triumphs, and everything that comes in between – and this year I’m excited to begin writing my own. Hopefully it will be the first of many chapters to come in my full-circle Grandman journey.