By Shane Frederick email@example.com
The Mankato Free Press
---- — ELYSIAN — Jeanne Zwart's job during the first Elysian Rookies Triathlon in 1984 involved pointing participants in the right direction.
"When the bikers would come back and leave their bikes, I'd point them in the right direction for the run," she said. "It's exciting every year, but that got me hooked."
A year later, Zwart wasn't just directing one corner of the route. She was making sure the entire event was pointed in the right direction.
Today, she's still the race director and this week is preparing for the triathlon's 30th running (and swimming and biking).
"My youngest daughter was born in 1981, and the first triathlon was in '84," Zwart said. "She does not remember a time when we've not been involved in the triathlon."
The race will take place on Saturday, starting on the south shore of Lake Francis. It includes a four-tenths-mile swim in the lake followed by an 8-mile bike out and back on County Road 11 and a 4-mile run on the Sakatah Trail.
The course hasn't changed much, if at all, since that first race.
"People say the bike is too short," Zwart said. "But for rookies, it's just right. You don't have to buy an expensive new racing bike."
If there have been complaints, they've been few and far between. One of the longest running races of its kind in the state, the triathlon began with 53 participants. There have been as many as 400 in recent years, Zwart said. Last year's race drew 151 individuals and 19 three-person teams.
Zwart said the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis, which takes place on the same day, has drawn some competitors away. But that hasn't taken away from the event.
Last year saw a course record set by Nathan Korteum, of Clermont, Fla., who finished in 47 minutes, 58 seconds (the 1984 winner, James Graif, of St. Cloud, won in 57:45; Carrie Rethwell of Minneapolis was the first female finisher in 1:06:55), as well as a 40th birthday party and a wedding proposal.
"Every year something interesting happens," Zwart said.
For the proposal, Darren Pawlitschek of New Brighton finished the race, changed into a suit and waited for his girlfriend, Patricia Crompton of Shoreview to cross the finish line. When she did, she was still huffing and puffing when Pawlitschek popped the question.
"She said yes," Zwart said.
The Elysian race has inspired many other communities — North Mankato, Lake Crystal, Waseca and Fairmont, among others — to start similar races, and organizers have counted on Zwart's expertise and resources. Many people also got their first taste of racing as rookies in the Rookies tri.
"A ton of people say to me, 'I started here,' or, 'I was here 25 years ago,' and went on to bigger races," Zwart said. "It's nice to have those people come back every year."
Zwart expects a decent turnout Saturday, especially if the weather cooperates. There remains room in the field, and there is race-day registration. More information can be found at www.elysianmn.com.
As for Zwart, she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. She hopes to be directing the 40th triathlon, too.
"Ten more years probably will be my limit," she said. "Somebody will probably have to take over then."