Hundreds of motivated individuals will run, swim and bike this Sunday during the 28th Annual Westchester Triathlon in order to help others overcome life-threatening diseases and other hardships.
The Jarden Westchester Tri includes a 9/10ths mile swim in the Long Island Sound, a 25-mile scenic bike course and a 6.2-mile run through Rye. About 1,500 participate and 1,600 people register every year.
The Westchester Triathlon Committee that orchestrates the race has selected six primary charities that the event will support. The committee expects to raise $70,000 to split among the six, and for independent charity teams to raise another $500,000 for their various causes.
Among the primary charities are the MAC Angels and The Blazeman Foundation for ALS, organizations created to help those with ALS—and honor the dictums “don't give up” and “so others may live.”
In 2006, Claire Gormley Collier and Jon Blais sat on top of the most difficult part of the biking section of the triathlon—around the halfway mark—to cheer participants and support each other. The two had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, and would benefit from the triathlon, as a portion of the donations go toward ALS research. Claire's motto was "never give up," and Jon's was "so someone else lives."
Claire’s Climb, as the hill is now called, is always a challenging but special part of the triathlon for participants.
“It is very emotional and inspirational and everyone feels it,” said Phil Gormley, Claire’s brother, a Rye native and Chair of the Westchester Triathlon board.
In 2007, Blais died of ALS, and his parents Bob and MaryAnne started sitting with Claire at the top of her climb to cheer on the tri-athletes. Sadly, two years later, Claire also passed. Today, the Blaises continue to cheer for Claire and Jon at the top of her hill—and they are joined by a bagpipe player, as well as friends and family. This year, another community member with ALS—Sgt. Roger Patron of the Greenwich police force—will also be cheering in the name of Claire, Gormley said.
“When you go up hill you are halfway through the bike course, and people up there [are] singing, banging cow bells, and it really gets you revved up for the second half of the race,” said Martin E. Franklin, the Executive Chairman of the title sponsor of the race, the Jarden Corporation. The Jarden Corporation is a multi-billion dollar leading provider of a diverse range of consumer products.
A “perfect marriage” of corporate sponsorship, community and charity
Both Franklin and Gormley are active participants and contributors to the race—Franklin by sponsoring the event, and Gormley by organizing and running it. Both share a love for athletic challenges, supporting charities, the rewarding experience of racing with hundreds of people and giving back to their community, they said.
The two married their passions in 2009, when Franklin brought Jarden on as the title sponsor. At the time, Gormley had been working on the board for almost 10 years, and had recently lost his sister.
Claire was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, a devastating turn of events that only strengthened Gormley’s dedication to volunteer charity work. The family needed much financial and emotional support, and Gormley found that the people he knew through the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society—where he had been serving on the board of trustees for 15 years—were up to the task.
“I feel like whatever I’ve given out, I have gotten back four-fold in return without expecting anything,” said Gormley, who volunteers on several charity boards himself and organizes dozens of fundraising events like the Westchester Tri every year, all while working as the Vice President of Peacock Apparel.
“[It] is amazingly rewarding, the love and support and camaraderie.”
Already a part of the volunteer charity committee boards, Gormley worked even harder in his role as Board Chair of the Westchester Triathlon to make it a serious fundraiser for well-established charities.
Gormley helped bring the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on board, and to keep the Rye YMCA involved 10 years ago when low participation put the triathlon at risk of cancellation. With Gormley’s help, the tri grew from a couple hundred to about 400 people in 2002—and in the last 10 years, participation has more than quadrupled.
In recent years, the event sold out its 1,600 tickets within 48 hours of being released online in May.
Since 2009, Jarden Corporation’s sponsorship of the event has helped cover costs and to grow the triathlon to the successful event it is today.
“Martin Franklin is an avid athlete and philanthropist, he likes to give back,” Gormley said. “So with Jarden based in Rye it became like a happy marriage.”
For Franklin, becoming the title sponsor of the event made sense. His company’s philosophy is to give back to the communities in which it operates. It produces athletic equipment and gear, and is also involved with Wounded Warriors.
“We felt it was important to do something be involved in an event that is very much tied to the community,” Franklin said.
Jarden signed on to sponsor the Westchester Tri for another four years through 2016 last month.
On Sept. 23, Franklin and Gormley will be joined by Franklin’s employees and two sons, and hundreds of others, dedicated to their community and friends and loves ones who need their support.
Organizers encourage the community to come out to support the tri-athletes, who will be racing rain or shine.
To read more about the Westchester Triathlon, click here.
Claire's Climb is located on the former Greenwich American (American Can) property in Greenwich, CT near the Westchester County Airport.
Editor's Note: "Don't Give Up," and "So Others May Live" are the two mottos that Claire and Job Blais created. An earlier version of this article misquoted the mottos. We regret the error.