Since 2009, athletes from all over the world have come to South Boston to compete in the Boston Triathlon. The swim course starts and finishes on DCR Carson Beach, following a trapezoidal path to the finish line. The bike route takes advantage of the flat loop course on the very wide, car-free DCR William Day Blvd. The run course highlights the best of Boston, as it offers spectacular views of the harbor and the Boston Skyline as athletes run through Moakley Park. The run finishes back at DCR Mother’s Rest Field. There are two distances of the triathlon, Sprint and Olympic Distance.
So how did this wildly popular event, which has given back to the South Boston community and beyond, come to be in our neighborhood? With a vision, positive tenacity, hard work, and maneuvering the gauntlet to ensure all the city and state permits are approved for an event of such magnitude, that’s how!
The very beginning
Race organizers Will Thomas and Michael O’Neil have always had a vision of creating a fun but challenging triathlon in the most beautiful, historic, urban neighborhood in the world.
“Will saw the clean water, a beautiful beach, a stunning shoreline and had an idea for a race course. Our sport, paired with a historic Southie neighborhood, had to happen. Boston needed a world-class triathlon and we have been chasing the dream ever since,” said O’Neil, Race Director and Boston Triathlon President.
“We have always felt an obligation to the city and Southie to create something special and never to let our growth be anything but to have a positive impact on the neighborhood. I remember in one City Hall meeting, I made a promise to Michael Kineavy that we would never let the event outgrow us or the neighborhood. I told him our goal was to make Boston and Southie proud. We have always understood events can be disruptive to the daily lives of its residents. We always work hard to minimize the disruption and use our race as a force for good in Southie and Boston,” O’Neil added.
Michael Kineavy, Chief of Policy and Planning for the City of Boston in 2009, helped O’Neil and Thomas with the navigation of the process. “I legit gave them a ton of homework to do to get the buy-in that they needed, and they did everything within their control to win the hearts and minds of people in the neighborhood,” said Kineavy.
This is one of the few local races that schedules meetings with the Neighborhood Associations to ensure the event is a good partner and to minimize the impact on the neighborhood. It may seem trivial (these guys understood that nothing about parking in Southie is trivial), but from the beginning, the race developed a smart and extremely effective parking plan.
“They hit a bunch of hurdles but never stopped working. Back in the day, lots of people promised us that they would take the community process seriously, but not many did what they were supposed to, to the level that these guys did. That’s why they got permitted the first time and why, in my opinion, they have been so successful. They never strayed from their community-focused promises,” Kineavy added.
They designed an innovative way to notify residents about the day of race parking ban on Day Blvd and informed folks about the alternative parking options that are made available to them. Starting the Monday of race week, the Boston Triathlon places flyers on every single car that is parked on Day Blvd with all the parking details. Each day’s flyer is a different color, so Boston Triathlon knows which residents have seen the flyers.
“This event was so different than anything we had done, and we wanted to approach it differently. Our standard SOP was to flyer the vehicles that were on the impacted roads 24 hours in advance so they would know to move,” said Tom Tinlin, who was Transportation Commissioner for the City of Boston back in 2009. “This time, we decided to flyer on multiple days using different colors each day to get the attention of the vehicle owners. It was me, Joe Rull and Casey Hines, all ONS alumni, who volunteered. It cost me dinner at Seapoint! I believe that DCR uses this as the standard now, Tinlin added.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised over the years for Boston Medical Center to address real needs in Boston. This includes everything from addiction to health equity and achieving a vision to make Boston the healthiest urban population in the world. There is also a common theme that comes up when you think about the Boston Triathlon’s charitable efforts and its impact on South Boston – kids. Eight years ago, Will and Mike were meeting with Nick Collins to discuss the race. Nick, representing the 4th Suffolk District at the time, suggested the race add a kids’ race as a way to give the young people of Southie a new opportunity to experience during the summer. Thanks to Collins’ idea, Kids Day at the Boston Triathlon was born.
“Whenever youth have the opportunity to take part in something new and challenging like the Boston
Triathlon, it’s a confidence builder that helps them not only in athletics but also at school, at home, and in
the community throughout their lives,” said Bryan Van Dorpe, Executive Director of YES.
Giving Back Has Always Been the Plan
In addition to the race’s official charity partner, Boston Medical Center, the Boston Triathlon has a long history of working with and supporting Southie and local organizations such as South Boston Leadership Initiative, Youth Enrichment Services, South Boston Neighborhood House, Laboure Center, Fourth Presbyterian Church, and the Gavin Foundation, to name a few.
“A number of years ago, during the Spring fundraiser circuit, I was helping at the live auction supporting Summer Meals at Fourth Church. A stranger was outbidding my ringer on “the milk” for the summer meals program. This person was not on my “hit list” for sponsoring the milk, and I was grateful for the unexpected support, said Beth Greene, a Southie resident.
After making her way across the room to introduce herself, after “winning” the milk, Greene felt an instant connection to O’Neil after having a conversation about the kids in the neighborhood.
“We started to brainstorm ways to capture the kids of South Boston for the triathlon’s kids’ race. Kids from YES, the Ollie, the Boys and Girls Club, the Condon, and the Harry Mcdonough Sailing Center were invited to come down and try their hats at the swim/run event that year. I volunteered on race weekend, and I was blown away by the professional triathlon landscape that engulfed our neighborhood. Our streets, parks, and sea provide the perfect place to host this event. The Boston Triathlon has embraced this community and left it a better place.” added Greene.
Eight years ago, the race brought on title partner Columbia Threadneedle Investments, a global investment firm with headquarters on Congress Street. O’Neil gives credit to his partners at Columbia Threadneedle Investments for helping the race make a bigger impact in the city. He describes them as like-minded people with a strong desire to make an impact in the city they call home. “Every time we want to do something to help the city, the neighborhood, or kids, Columbia Threadneedle Investments always helps us make a bigger impact. We are honored to call them partners and friends, and the race is a more powerful force for good because they are our partners,” O’Neil said.
The race has also recently partnered with the City of Boston and its Swim Safe Boston initiative, offering free swim lessons for kids ages 3-12 years old.
“We have always felt an obligation to the city and Southie to create something special and never to let our growth be anything but to have a positive impact on the neighborhood. I remember in one City Hall meeting, I made a promise to Michael Kineavy (We call Michael “The Godfather” of the race because he has always been there to help us) that we would never let the event outgrow us or the neighborhood. I told him our goal was to make Boston and Southie proud. We have always understood events can be disruptive to the daily lives of its residents. We always work hard to minimize the disruption and use our race as a force for good in Southie and Boston. Perhaps because swimming is part of a triathlon, we are more aware that drowning is a public health crisis in many communities. Every kid in Boston must have free access to learn the lifesaving skill of swimming. We are proud to be an original partner with City Hall on the Swim Safe Boston initiative and believe this program must grow and are working hard to help make that happen. It is the community partnership that is most important to us.” O’Neil added.
Inspiring the Athlete Within
Ten years ago, Southie resident and retired BPD Sgt. Detective Mark Handrahan, now 70, saw the event taking place on a Sunday afternoon. After asking a few spectators about what event was taking place, he found out it was the Boston Triathlon. Handrahan, who was a runner for years, thought the race looked interesting, so he became inspired to train more in swimming and biking so he could compete the following year in the event. Mark has raced the triathlon an impressive nine times.
“I always participated in swimming, biking, or running at different times in my life. After seeing the event pass by the Boston Harbor Yacht Club many years ago, I became interested in trying all three in one event. I looked into it, signed up the next year, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Handrahan.
There is a race for everyone at this year’s Boston Triathlon, for example, on Sunday, August 27th. The event will feature two main races: The Olympic Race, which is a 1.5K swim, 35K bike, and 10K run, while the Sprint Race features a 750m swim, 17.5K bike, and 3K run. What if you love to run but hate to bike and swim? Grab two friends and sign up as a Relay Team! Or encourage your friends, family, or colleagues to join the fun by signing up for the 2023 Team Championship Cup, a great way to experience the sprint race from start to finish while participating in some friendly competition and it includes $5,000 in prizes!
Cheer them on!
If swimming, biking, and running are not your thing, come out and show your support by cheering on the athletes who are competing or volunteering! To register or to learn more – visit here! Make sure to follow Boston Triathlon on Instagram, too, for the latest news and information!
What’s in store for the future…
The race organizers say they are humbled that in less than two weeks, athletes from more than 14 countries, 42 states, 300+ Massachusetts towns, and every neighborhood in Boston will show up to race. “We know our race helps to provide a positive economic impact in Boston and the local neighborhoods, and we hope that continues to grow in the future. Boston is known as one of the greatest sports cities in the country, and it is nice to have our sport of triathlon included with all these other amazing sports,” O’Neil said.