On July 14, 2018, I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the Sunfish Triathlon for the first time. The race was 100% first class from the beautiful start/finish, transition and swim venue at Bonita Lakes to the challenging bike course to the hot but very runnable run course.
The volunteers could not have been more helpful, the before, during and after nutrition and hydration were excellent and the fellowship with other competitors was amazing. Truly nothing about the race could have been better (although I would have preferred not swimming offline and costing myself a couple of minutes on the swim, but that is a personal problem that I am working to correct).
As great as the event was, it was the drive into town that most impressed me with the heart and soul of Meridian, Mississippi.
I have not been able to ascertain exactly when James Chaney Road was dedicated in honor of the Meridian native and slain civil rights worker but I had never noticed the interstate road sign to that effect until the morning of Sunfish.
Long after my memories of that wonderful race are gone, it is that sign that will remain forever burned in my heart and that prompts me to “get into yall’s business” a little bit with this letter.
James Chaney Day was in Meridian on July 7 beginning at 11 a.m. The Sunfish Triathlon was in Meridian on July 14 ending around 11 a.m. Why not host these events on the same day and cross market the two events possibly with a kid’s triathlon (150m swim, 3 mile bike, 1 mile run) that specifically targets minority kids or through any number of other possible joint/cross marketing initiatives?
Given that James Chaney was murdered by the Klan in Philadelphia along with fellow civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner in 1964, what if the Sunfish Triathlon and Heart of Dixie Triathlon were tied together in a triathlon series under the banner of racial reconciliation?
Each triathlon would retain in its own organization, branding, etc. with cross marketing between the events in terms of series awards and outreach to would be African American, Hispanic and Native American triathletes in particular. Note that the USA Triathlon and Ironman have partnered to form the Time to Tri Initiative with a stated purpose of attracting 100,000 new triathletes to the sport by 2020.
That would be a good day’s work but let me also add that the 11th annual Bike, Blues & Bayous Bike Ride in Greenwood on August 4 will literally stop at the Money Store where 14-year-old Emmett Till did NOT make a pass at Ms. Bryant in 1955 (Some fifty plus years later, Ms. Bryant has finally confessed the truth).
The store has long since closed but a historic marker in honor of Emmett Till has been erected there.
So, I am suggesting that these three enduring, well-run, well-established endurance sports events (two triathlons and one bike ride) be tied together as the “Mississippi Endurance Sports Racial Reconciliation Series” or something to that effect.
All participating events would retain their individual autonomy with there being an additional purpose of using these events to celebrate and promote racial reconciliation with an intended ancillary benefit of attracting larger minority participation in endurance sports.
A recent study concluded that Mississippi is the least fit state in the country. While we are a work in progress on racial reconciliation, we have come a long, long way. Existing Mississippi endurance sports events could tie fitness and racial reconciliation together for the benefit of us all.
T. Logan Russell