The Bay City Morning Rotary Driathlon still needs racers and spectators

About 10 years ago, a friend invited John Shankool to join a driathlon in Milford. The event – which is similar to a triathlon – included an off-road biking segment, a paddle along a river, and  a run. 

Shankool had so much fun he decided to bring the event to the Bay City Morning Rotary Club. The first Bay City event took place in 2014. Since then, the Rotary Club has used the Driathlon as a fundraiser every year except 2020 when high water on the Saginaw River and the COVID-19 pandemic forced a cancelation.

It’s back this year, though, with some changes that organizers hope will make it an even better event that appeals to a broad audience.

The 2021 event takes place on Sept. 19 and includes a 5-kilometer canoe or kayak paddling leg followed by a 20-kilometer paved path bike race, and ending with a 5-kilometer run. The route takes participants throughout Bangor Township and along the Kawkawlin River. It begins and ends at Castaways Bay City, 3940 Boy Scout Road. Teams or individuals are welcome. The entrance fee varies, depending on when you register. Registration is available online.

At its peak, the event attracted 400 participants. This year, Shankool and his co-chairs, Brenda Rowley and Lori Appold, set the maximum number of teams at 200 and they expect to sell out. Rowley says registrations typically pick up about a month before the event.

In the past, the Driathlon took place in Downtown Bay City and the Saginaw River. That made it difficult for spectators. The goal of moving it to Bangor Township is to encourage people to gather along the river and at Castaways to cheer on participants.

“You really didn’t have that on the Saginaw River because it’s so wide,” Rowley says.

Shankool says Rotary plans to send letters to people who live along the new route, explaining what they’re doing and hoping to get spectators at Castaways as well as from porches and yards.

“When the horn goes off and people start off, watching that all go down, it’s very cool to experience and see,” Shankool says. “It seems like (the new route) is spectator friendly.”

From now through Sept. 16, Rotary members also are selling raffle tickets for prizes including a wooden kayak handmade by member Bill Coberly. The winner will be drawn on Sept. 19.

The event is about more than fitness and fun. Rowley says the money raised goes to support Rotary programs including Rotary Smiles, which works with Dr. Donald J. Sabourin to provide braces and hardware for people; scholarships; and a program to expand the collections in area elementary school libraries.

At the end of the 2021 Driathlon, the winner of a raffle for a handmade kayak will be drawn.Another goal of the event is to highlight a new part of the community. “It’s fun to have a new location,” she says. “It’s nice to highlight Bangor Township and bring people closer to the bay. It’s nice to give some attention to different parts of the community.”

As the event nears, Rowley says the Rotary is keeping an eye on recommended COVID-19 precautions. The event is outdoors, which limits exposure. Still, the club may recommend masks in crowded spaces, such as when racers transition between the different legs of the event.  “We’re watching this,” she says.