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2021 marked the 25th anniversary of the White Lake Triathlon and now we are going on the 26th year. Originally only a Sprint distance race, White Lake now offers triathletes the choice of a Sprint, an International, or a Half in the Spring. The Half is now Co-Produced by Without Limits and Set Up Events. Tom Clifford and Aaron Kolk have joined me in creating a PRO-AM race that focuses on the athlete experience!
It was back in 1995, when I was the owner of a sporting goods store in Wilmington, when an older guy walked in and was looking around at our unusual décor. Being an avid triathlete throughout the 1980s, I had started the practice of never wearing the race shirts that were given out - I just folded them up and saved them. When we opened our sporting goods store in Wilmington in 1992, my collection of about 100 triathlon shirts were used as store décor. Every shirt was hung up from the ceiling and against the walls all the way around the interior perimeter of the store.
But this particular guy spent quite a bit of time checking them all out. His name was Jack Riel and Jack was 67 in 1995, but looked like he was 47. He was ripped. The reason he was even in our store was because he was filming a movie in Wilmington. This was back in the day when Wilmington was a hot spot for movie and television production (Dawson’s Creek, Matlock, etc.). Jack had gotten a few “gigs” – all secondary, extra type roles – but he loved it.
Eventually, Jack walked over to the counter, and asked me about the triathlon shirts. After a few minutes of conversation, Jack told me that he’d like me to come up to where he lived – a little town called White Lake. Not being a North Carolina native, White Lake meant nothing to me.
A week or so after Jack came into my store, I was standing on one of the piers at Goldsten’s Beach marveling at what I was looking at. This was the prettiest lake I had ever seen. Jack took me out on his boat for about a 15-minute tour of the lake. Things progressed rapidly after that and the first race was held in May of 1996.
During the post-race activities at that first race, Jack Riel “entertained” everyone as he did karaoke out on the pier – sound system and all. Jack had carefully negotiated this term into the agreement that we had with the Town of White Lake.
Sadly, Jack passed away in 2008. I will always remember Jack for being the inspiration behind the White Lake Triathlon. I’ll also never forget the faces of our triathletes and their families as they watched Jack sing “New York, New York”. If this had been American Idol, he would have heard a buzzer after about ten seconds.
Today, Jack's son Tom sits on the Elizabethtown City Council. Elizabethtown is the "big" city near White Lake - only five miles away. And a youngster who was there for that very first race, now owns and operates the family business at Goldsten's Beach - Jake Womble.
Set Up Events