It all began as a friendly wager among seven members of the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Office of the FBI. But in less than 10 years—from its founding in 2007 up until 2015—the First Responders’ Competition hosted more than 1,000 participants from approximately 25 agencies across the United States.
In retrospect, the triathlon’s steady rise in turnout was not overly surprising. After all, it was hosted during the weekend of the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon, the world’s largest multisport event, which has hosted at least 250,000 triathletes since 1983. But the competition’s popularity caught the attention of Chicago-based organizations nonetheless.
Last year, Life Time Fitness (the producer of the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon) approached the 100 Club of Chicago, a non-profit organization that provides monetary resources for the surviving spouses and dependents of local law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The organization agreed to partner with Life Time Fitness and rename the First Responders’ Competition the 100 Club Challenge.
On Sunday, August 28—one day after the 50th anniversary of the 100 Club of Chicago—the first annual 100 Club Challenge will begin at Chicago’s Monroe Harbor.
Presently, the triathlon’s administrators are focused on generating more than $25,000 in direct con- tributions to the 100 Club of Chicago through public donations, as well as private fundraising efforts. The funds will be provided specifically to widows and dependents of federal, state, county and local officers, firefighters and paramedics stationed in Cook and Lake Counties.
“When a first responder in Cook or Lake County is killed in the line of duty, the 100 Club of Chicago is at their home within 24 hours, giving the spouse or dependent the first of two checks totaling $50,000,” says Joe Ahern, CEO, 100 Club of Chicago. “There are no forms for them to fill out, no bureaucracy, no lines to stand in and no delay. It’s just our family—the 100 Club family—helping their family with their grief. And that’s just the beginning of our support.”
In addition to offering $50,000 to spouses or dependents, the 100 Club of Chicago also provides financial assistance to the first responders’ children so that they can complete their undergraduate, vocational education or graduate studies.
“We are supporting 21 young adults in college right now and will have 67 more children who will have our support once they attend college,” Ahern adds. “We also have partnerships with 20 universities who have committed to providing scholarships to our kids if they choose to attend one of those higher education institutions.”
Trophies, Camaraderie and a Great Cause
Since 100 Club Challenge participants will vary in age and experience levels, they will have two different types of races to choose from on August 28: the International, which will begin at 6 a.m. CT, and the Sprint, which will begin at approximately 9 a.m. CT. The International race will feature a 1.5K swim course, a 40K bike course and a 10K run course, while the Sprint race will be much shorter—featuring a 750 meter swim course, a 24K bike course and a 5K run course.
The participants will also comprise two teams: Police, consisting of local, state and federal law enforcement, including all military personnel, as well as members of the CIA and FBI, and Fire, which will include local and regional firefighters, paramedics and auxiliary EMS personnel.
Upon the conclusion of the International and Sprint races, a winning team will be determined according to a points system. First, International participants will earn three points for their respective teams by simply finishing the race; Sprint participants, on the other hand, will earn two points. In addition, the top 20 finishers in the International and Sprint races will each earn points for their team. First-place finishers will earn 20 points, 2nd-place finishers 19 points and so forth.
First responders may also participate in a two- to three-person relay team competition (International race distance only). If they complete the Relay, they will earn one point for their respective team. The fastest 10 teams will also be awarded points—10 for 1st place, nine for 2nd place and so on. Once all of the points are tallied, the team with the most points—either the Police or the Fire team—will be announced as the winner.
The winning team will not only acquire the 100 Club Challenge trophy, but will also be presented a promotion check to the 100 Club on the team’s behalf. At the same time, each team’s top three performing males and females (in the International and Sprint races) will also receive an award, in addition to the top three overall fastest relay team.
Civilians, including 100 Club members, beneficiary families and non-active duty personnel, as well as the general public, are also welcomed to support the 100 Club of Chicago as an official charity team participant. All charity team participants may enroll in the 100 Club Challenge as an individual (for the International and Sprint races) or as a member of a two- to three-person relay team, again for International race distance only.
Comfort for Families in Need
Approximately 200 first responders, including fire and police personnel, Navy fighter pilots, U.S. Treasury agents and FBI
agents, are expected to participate in the first annual 100 Club Challenge on August 28, 2016.
“Given the heavy integration of the police and fire departments, athletes and spectators will see a huge presence from both departments—including pomp and circumstance at the start of the event, fire boats on the water, police helicopter flyovers and honor guards,” says Scott “Hootie” Hutmacher, brand manager, Life Time Tri. “It will be memorable!”
For LaVar Merrell, a personal trainer at Chicago’s East Bank Club, the 100 Club Challenge will especially be memorable since it is his first-ever triathlon. Merrell is a recipient of the 100 Club of Chicago’s services, as his father, a long-time Chicago Fire Department veteran, died in the line of duty in 2000. Merrell was only 13 years old.
The 100 Club of Chicago helped Merrell’s family pay its funeral expenses, and also offered him financial assistance so that he could complete his college education. Since then, Merrell has remained in touch with the organization’s administration, as well as other recipients of its services.
“The 100 Club really brings the recipients together to create a family bond,” Merrell says. “I was able to find peers who lost loved ones and create a friendship with them.”
He adds, “In addition, the 100 Club’s administration members have become friends of mine whom could never be replaced. I have been to various events for the organization and spoken to non-members about how helpful the 100 Club has been in my educational and personal life.”
Michelle Coon, an assistant fire chief for the Country Club Hills Fire Department, has also never participated in a triathlon. However, she is interested in participating in the 100 Club Challenge, as she believes in its primary mission.
“The 100 Club alleviates one component of an already overwhelming time, and it helps families realize they can still have a future,” Coon says. “There is comfort in knowing this valuable resource is available for people in need.”
Mark Krizik, a member of the Posen Fire Department since 1984, will also be participating in the 100 Club Challenge. Krizik has extensive triathlon experience, as he has competed in nine Transamerica Chicago Triathlons. He first learned about the 100 Club of Chicago through his brother, Bryant, a deputy fire chief in South Holland, Ill.
“I’m a big believer of what the 100 Club does to support the families of fallen firefighters and police officers,” Krizik says. “Also, it will be neat to have a little spirited competition at the 100 Club Challenge to see who ‘officially’ comes out on top—the cops or the firefighters.”