By Tom Held Special to Published Nov 30, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Weeks before 250,000 Harley-Davidson enthusiasts roll into Milwaukee for the motorcycle maker's 110th anniversary, the city will host a national event fueled by a different form of adrenaline.

Roughly 3,500 of the country's fastest endurance athletes will create a roar of their own in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, Aug. 10 and 11.

This isn't just another race for charity.

"Age group nationals is our premier event, the most competitive Olympic distance triathlon in the country," said Jeff Dyrek, national events director of USA Triathlon, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Dyrek plans to center the races in Urban Park, next to the Discovery World Museum. Competitors will swim in Lake Michigan, then bike and run on courses showcasing the downtown and lakefront.

Organizers picked Milwaukee from eight bidders seeking to host the championships in 2013 and 2014. The prize is an event that projects to fill upwards of 3,700 hotel rooms, draw competitors from all 50 states and generate more than $2.5 million in direct spending.

With the two-year agreement, Milwaukee becomes a destination city for a fast-growing sport that attracts competitors with a median income of $126,000.

Membership in USA Triathlon has grown to 155,198 and a 2010 survey put the number participating in a triathlon each year at 2.3 million.

Local triathletes and tourism officials are thrilled to have landed the top-flight fitness test in a city known for motorcycles, beer and brats.

"It's going to get national interest and coverage, which I feel will continue to put us on the map for these types of events, national and world-class events," said Brent Foerster, vice president of VISIT Milwaukee, the convention and tourism marketing agency.

Foerster said VISIT Milwaukee has worked in recent years to draw similar Olympic-type competitions, and the USA Triathlon championships are the biggest success to date, following national championships in table tennis and fencing.

"It's a big small world – working with the Olympic governing bodies," Foerster said. "When you're a city that's working with a high-caliber event like this, they take note of that.

"Milwaukee is a city that surprises people."

The effort to bring USA Triathlon to Milwaukee started with Bob and Wendy Hanisch. He coached the USA Triathlon team from 1994 through 1996 and now operates P3 Peak Performance Professionals Personal Training; Wendy is the executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and a top-level triathlete.

As they prepared for the 2012 age group nationals in Burlington, Vt., Wendy Hanisch wondered why Milwaukee couldn't be the next host city.

They worked with VISIT Milwaukee to bid for the championships, and P3 will lead the local organizing committee: lining up volunteers, sponsorships and money to pay for permits and the $30,000 bid fee.

"I can't believe we got it," Bob Hanisch said. "This is incredible for the city. In general, there aren't these kinds of races taking place in the Milwaukee area. It's hard to put into words."

Landing the USA Triathlon nationals suggests Milwaukee and the state have gained some notice as a city with a strong core of competitive citizen athletes, and outstanding venues for swimming, cycling and running.

"If you were making a list of the top five triathlon areas in the country, Wisconsin might be on that list," said Mark Harms, a business executive and four-time age group champion from Madison.

"Ironman Wisconsin has been a big part of that, but Ironman is one thing. Having nationals will make people see triathlon in a different light."

The local TriWisconsin club has 350 members who organize training sessions and race in events around the country.

"This is a great opportunity to highlight everything we do and what our athletes are capable of," said TriWis president Lauren Storck. "The allure of Boston, the allure of Kona, is that you have to qualify for it. If you've been doing this for a long time, then this is a great opportunity."

Athletes will have to qualify to compete in the Olympic distance race, a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run. The Sprint distance races – a 750-meter swim, 20K bike and 5K run, will be open to all entrants. Registration fees are $155.

"It's nice to have a little bit of a kick in the pants," Storck said. "Now, I guess taking the winter off is not such a great idea, not if I want to qualify."
Storck expects visitors will be impressed by what Milwaukee has to offer: the lakefront with Henry Maier Festival Park, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World, and a walkable downtown. Locals will be impressed by the caliber of the competitors.

"It's just really interesting to see that kind of speed," Bob Hanisch said. "The quality of the athletes is just incredible. You'll wonder where do all these people come from, who can go this fast."

Tom Held Special to

Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.

He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.

Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.