Earlier this summer, as I toweled off after a chilly swim at La Jolla Cove in San Diego, two women in the change room with me were discussing their next race. Though not an uncommon conversation topic at a San Diego Triathlon Club event, this particular race seemed to have generated excitement in excess of the normal levels.
“They’re going to have a beer garden this year, and you get two t-shirts.”
“That race keeps getting better and better—if I could do only one a year, that would be it.”
I eventually learned that they were talking about the second annual San Diego Triathlon Classic put on by the folks at Moment Cycle Sport in Point Loma. Being a new California transplant on the prowl for a late-summer race, it sounded like a good option. It would get me off the beaten Pacific Coast Highway path, and into an area of the city I wasn’t yet familiar with, Liberty Station. The website promised not only the city’s “only true Olympic distance race,” but calm swimming waters, a challenging bike course with good views, and a flat run course for my undertrained legs.
I later discovered that besides having a triathlon, Liberty Station had history. A converted Naval training center now consisting of Navy and non-Navy housing, all of the main buildings have been converted and restored. “It’s kind of a living museum,” said J.T. Lyons of Moment Cycle Sport, one of the key race organizers.
Thanks to the preservation work of the State and National Parks service, the area now also houses the second biggest park in the city. Lyons remembers the organizers’ “aha” moment fondly: “We were walking through Liberty Station and saw this giant field, and thought ‘This is perfect for tri, but there’s no water.’ Then we found water, and we were like ‘oh my gosh.’”
But the organizers didn’t just bulldoze ahead.
“I’ve been to other races where all the athletes move in, shut down a road, and everyone’s inconvenienced,” Lyons said. “Businesses don’t get any money out of it—it’s like ‘why the heck should we let you do this to our neighborhood?’ We thought maybe we could make this a positive thing and bring some support.”
Besides the area’s surprising suitability for triathlon (and the fact that their bike shop is located there), gaining exposure for the neighborhood was part of the team’s decision to hold the race in Liberty Station. “We want them to want to have us back—we want to help the local businesses, not hurt them,” Lyons said. To fulfill this mission, the race organizers offered coupons for pre-race meals at nearby restaurants, and invited local brewery Stone to sponsor its beer garden. Nearby Wine Steals hosted a post-race party as well.
But helping put the funky new district on the map wasn’t the race organizers’ only goal. By allotting race registration funds for a new aquatic center that’s been promised to the community, the Moment team has demonstrated their commitment to swimming, triathlon, and to the larger community.
Back in 2000, when the Naval Training Center redevelopment was underway, the citizens advisory committee was charged with redesigning the park. Point Loma resident Julie Cramer became one of the biggest advocates for the inclusion of a pool, and has been working diligently since then to get the aquatic center built. She said the race is going to raise the profile for the project at just the right time.
“There’s just a huge need for a pool of that size for all types of uses,” Cramer said. She added that the project has received lots of support from local colleges and high schools, lifeguards, master’s swimmers, and the triathlete crowd. Matthew Hervey of the Hervey Family Fund has made a generous donation towards operations (once the center is built), and city Councilman Kevin Faulconer also supports the project. Cramer said that the city is currently interviewing architects, and that by spring they’ll be going back to the community with designs.
Cramer is also grateful to the race organizers, who approached her over a year ago. “I really appreciate them being on board,” she said. “I can be a voice for high school and college athletes and families, but I can’t be the voice for triathletes.”
When race weekend finally came, over 700 local triathletes benefitted from the hard work put in by the Moment team. The beer garden ran through Friday afternoon’s expo, with cheese and fruit provided for the athletes. Saturday morning, spectators enjoyed the two-lap bike and run courses, as well as getting to interact with pro triathlete Chris McCormack, who finished the race in 1:54:42. The women’s race went to Karen Tulloch, of Vancouver, B.C., (2:13:04) with local Beth Walsh coming in second (2:16:38). Pro triathlete Erin Hunter, also of San Diego, had an unfortunate accident with a vehicle and did not complete the race.
As I left the site, I ran into Brian Wrona, one of the Classic’s key organizers. He was heading home for a quick nap before the after-party at Wine Steals started at 4 p.m.
“We’ve all been up since yesterday at 6 a.m,” he said, speaking of the race organizers.
With that kind of work ethic, next year’s event is set to be an even bigger success—for Southern California triathletes, Liberty Station businesses, and the families and swimmers of Point Loma.