HISTORY OF THE TAMWORTH TRIATHLON CLUB
In the early 1980s, there was interest in Tamworth about the new challenge of Triathlon that had just begun with reports of the seemingly suicidal Hawaiian Ironman.
The earliest local events were organised personally by just one or two individuals. One of these was organised in 1986 by Ian Littleton. Ian worked for the Dept of Agriculture and the challenging course he set was a swim on Chaffey Dam, a bike ride to Nemingha, and then a run finishing at Farrer Memorial High School.
Tragically 21 year old Richie Walker from Cronulla died after he suffered a heart attack during the swim at Chaffey. Richie was the person who had introduced his friend, champion triathlete, Greg Welch, to the sport. A Richie Walker Memorial Triathlon has been held in Sydney since for the past 25 years.
Although quite popular at the time, the Chaffey Triathlon folded after a couple of years for organizational reasons.
Back in 1984 Spencer Hird took a different approach. He wanted to organize triathlons that people other than serious athletes could have an attempt at. So he began Tamworths Mini Triathlons. These were held each summer for a few years. The original event consisted of 300m swim at City Pool, a 5k ride on the old cycle way (before the levy bank was upgraded & with all bikes stacked along the pool fence) and then a 1k run. In the beginning Spencer had no idea how to run a Triathlon. For so-called safety reasons, he enforced a 1 minute delay on competitors between each phase of the event!
Soon after that, one of our best local athletes, Chris Perry, twice runner-up in the Tamworth Ten came forward with advice. Chris had already travelled with success to some other early Triathlons and passed on his experience. So by trial & error the sport progressed.
A strong supporter of these Minis was Gunnedahs John Hickey. In one of these early races where we did the ride first, then the swim, Johns shoes got moved and he couldnt find them after getting out of the pool. After scampering around and with loud yells of frustration he took off barefoot on the run and still came second.
Another of our early races brought the elite triathlete, Mark Pringle, to Tamworth to race. At the time Mark was sponsored by Fosters Brewery to enter races around the state to promote the brand & the sport. Mark proceeded to win our event easily and it was the first time we saw a solid disc rear wheel used on a bike.
Near the end of the 80s the actual Tamworth Triathlon Club was formed. The two locals who pioneered this were Dennis Parker (President) & Mark Mellor (Vice-President), along with Michael Smith as the first Secretary-Treasurer.
With insurance liability issues, official race approvals required and so on, the informal Social Group basis of the Club had to change and Tamworth Triathlon Club Inc was officially registered with the State Government as an incorporated body in 1993.
Our racing evolved into a series of Club races. The swim was still at City pool. The bike course was down the old cycleway to Jewry St, then on to Dampier St when it used to go past the Racecourse and then for a short distance along Wallamore Rd. And the run was back along the cycleway.
Dennis Parker worked in Tamworth for Laminex and Mark and Michael are both Chartered Accountants. Michael Smith is still in Tamworth. However after some years Dennis was transferred by Laminex to Newcastle and Mark joined a firm of Accountants in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast.
At this stage Mike Peterson, then the owner of Tamworth Bicycles, took over as President for a couple of years and Michael Smith was still Secretary. The swim was made longer & bike course was lengthened along Wallamore Rd.
In the mid 90s Mick Russ took over as President, with Terry Targett as Treasurer and Spencer Hird moved up to Secretary. Micks turn as President brought many changes. Examples include the swap to the Gipps St Car Park as the Transition Area, a variety of distances offered, more marshalling, draft busting and the inclusion of Juniors. And Mick oversaw the purchase of equipment. He bought stop watches with print capabilities. He personally built our first bike racks and arranged for the Club to buy a trailer that he modified and painted.
For about 3 years we had our end of season races out at Lake Keepit. And we tried having ride/run duathlons in winter at Nemingha.
As well, in the late 90s the Tri Club took over the organizing of the King of the Mountain Fun Run up to Oxley Lookout from the races founder, John Black. The KOM had started in the early 1980s and was supported for its entire existence by the one sponsor, Ken Brady of Bob Jane T-Mart. However, because the run up White St to the Lookout involved crossing Peel & Marius Streets, eventually the Police refused their approval for the course and the run ceased after 21 years.
It was also at this time that the Tri Club – and Mick Russ in particular – took over the organizing of the Tamworth Ten Fun Run. The run had been a Tamworth tradition by then for 25 years (started by Dallas Earsman, Mike Cashman & Ted Cross) but it looked like folding. Mick organized community groups to volunteer and got a dozen or so sponsors including Northern Inland Cr Union. We started the run from outside the NICU office in White St for a couple of years before moving the event back to No1 Oval. The 10k run was made a figure 8 course that included a loop down to Jewry St via the Riverside sports fields.
With all this going on the number of competitors in our triathlons peaked. We had many successful series of races based at Gipps St with the ride out along Wallamore Rd. One year a teenager by the name of Michellie Jones, who was visiting relatives in Tamworth, had a go at our event. We were impressed when she finished right with the strongest local men. Of course, it was the same Michellie who went on to be a winner at World Champs and Hawaii and the silver medalist in the inaugural triathlon at the Sydney Olympics 2000.
Another race around that time was particularly memorable, recalls Spencer.
We were riding back on Wallamore Rd and I was about 20 metres behind Joanne Russell. The two of us were approaching the intersection at Goddard Lane, which is the turn off to the Tamworth Sale Yards. To be candid, Joanne is a slim, attractive lady and she was wearing her nice 2 piece triathlon race suit. Just then a huge B-Double loaded with wheat came alongside us. The driver was so interested in Joanne that he left it very late to brake before the corner. He braked suddenly and, rapidly losing speed, still turned into Goddards Lane. But as he went around the scene was like a slow motion movie First the dog box trailer at the back tilted. Then the wheat in it flopped to one side and the dog box trailer toppled over. This caused the main trailer to topple over as well, spilling wheat all over the side of the road. And finally the prime mover slowly, slowly toppled over too, pulled over by the weight of the trailers. I ran over to the cabin of the prime mover and called out Are you ok? The driver was trying to clamber out. He was so angry and his language so foul that I knew for sure he hadnt been injured. But I often wonder what the police put down as the cause of the accident.
By the early noughties the Clubs Committee had lost enthusiasm. It is hard to stay motivated when year by year the organizing of the races means you dont get to enter them yourself. Numbers started to fall away and the organizing fell back on fewer people. Eventually Mick Russ and Terry Targett left. It was time for new blood & new ideas.
The new Committee was led by Steve Hoy and a flurry of changes took place. We continued the successful running of the Tamworth Ten with 2 loops along the river and a community walk and numbers on the day have now rebounded to about 600.
We started racing our triathlons more often, including twilight racing, off handicaps. We even tried a triangular swim course around buoys in the City Pool to simulate open water swims but that made us all feel we were in a washing machine. We split our races: handicaps in town, longer ones at Kootingal.
And eventually we have made the move to be at Kootingal entirely, where the bike & run courses for adults & juniors are safer, we have better facilities plus support from the local community. We have had strong numbers competing since that decision was made and the enjoyment of our members racing or supporting the kids out there is obvious. Our future looks bright.
After 20 years of Committee, It is time for me to stand aside and say thanks to everyone.
15th March 2011