After A One-Year Hiatus, The Grandman Triathlon Returns And Lives Up To Its Name

After hitting pause last year due to Covid-19, the Grandman Triathlon returned Saturday to idyllic Fairhope, Alabama, as many racers competed for the first time since the early days of the pandemic.

The event was as much a celebration of community as it was a competition. Racers, volunteers, and spectators appeared in high spirits throughout the morning, excited to be back at what’s become one of the most beloved triathlon events along the Gulf Coast.

“Everyone’s had a tough year in a lot of ways, and this is one of those good feelings that you get that we’re headed in the right direction,” said Cade Kistler, acting interim director and baykeeper for Mobile Baykeeper, the environmental organization that puts on the Grandman.

The Grandman is a short-distanced “sprint” which features a one-third mile swim in Mobile Bay, an 18.6-mile bike through the rolling countryside of Fairhope, and a 3.1 mile run that does not skimp on hills. The event, whose proceeds benefit the work of Mobile Baykeeper, is open to individual racers and teams. Mobile Baykeeper also hosted the Publix Virtual Triathlon, which extends through June 5, for racers who weren’t ready to compete in person.

Caleb Earhart, a 29-year-old triathlete from Slidell, Louisiana, placed first overall in the individual category on Saturday with a time of 1:15:17 (6:41 pace).

“The course is beautiful. The run’s a little tough, but it’s so pretty with all the trees going over the road,” said Earhart, who’s raced the Grandman before with Chain Tri Team but had never won until Saturday. “I’m from Louisiana and everything’s flat over there, so it’s a little more hilly.”

Julie Martin, a 42-year-old triathlete who also hails from Slidell, won the overall female division with a time of 126:16 (7:14 pace).

Every year, the Grandman attracts racers of all talents and ages, with many first-timers competing alongside elite performers like Earhart. 

Representing the young guns this year was Noah Coulon, a twelve-year-old from Pass Christian, Mississippi, who won the 14-and-under division with a time of 1:49:12, beating his dad, Koby, by nearly six minutes. Johnnie Lucassen was the race’s oldest competitor at age 83.

One of the event’s most inspiring figures was 34-year-old Walter Beckman, a Pensacola triathlete who lost his vision nearly ten years ago due to an unknown birth defect. Finishing the Grandman with a time of 1:35:37, Beckman competed alongside his race partner, Dom Risola, a training coach at Tri Possibilites in Pensacola. “I always say if you lose me once that’s on you, if you lose me again, that’s on you,” Beckman told Mobile Baykeeper before the race. (Watch Walter compete in the video above.)

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