It wasn't the swimming, biking or running that drew Tom Kennedy to triathlons back in the early '80s. It was the camaraderie.
"We all shared a common interest," said Kennedy, a 57-year-old attorney from Clearwater. "It's always great to get together with people who like to do the same things you like to do."
But as triathlons grew in popularity, and became more of a business than a sport, something was lost, Kennedy said.
"It just wasn't as much fun," he said. "That is why we started the racing team."
The Kennedy Law Racing Team, formed one year ago, now has more than 250 active members, many of whom will be competing in the St. Anthony's Triathlon on April 26.
"And the key word is active," said Park Alsop, a former professional triathlete who manages the team. "We have people from every walk of life, from beginners to elites, who get together every week to train."
Ask any endurance athlete and they will tell you that it is a lot harder to blow off a workout when you have somebody who will hold you accountable.
"It keeps you honest," said Kennedy, who has been at it for more than 35 years. "You are not as likely to hit the snooze button when you know that you have somebody waiting for you to go for a run."
Kennedy, who is training for the 30th running of Ironman Australia on May 3, has competed in more than 100 triathlons in his career. In January, he became the first American to complete a full-Iron distance triathlon in Cuba.
"The more people that we can get interested in triathlons the better," he said. "It can make a huge difference in your life. It has helped me maintain a healthy lifestyle all these years. We want to spread the word."
Kennedy Law Racing, or KLR, as team members call it, holds regular swim, bike and run groups every week. "We can get 25 to 50 people that come out on any given night," said Alsop, who, with Kennedy, also started a Clearwater-based tri shop called TopGun Race Shop. "This is a great place for people to learn and improve their skills."
The opportunity to help others is why former Florida State University Triathlon Team member Jeremy Richardson, 25, makes the group-training sessions part of his weekly routine. Some aspects of the sport, such as the transitions between disciplines, often called the fourth leg of the triathlon, can be hard to learn on your own.
"That's why I love it," he said. "It is important to be part of the community. If you can show somebody how to improve, it makes it all worthwhile."
Alsop said KLR has 20 "elite" athletes on the team. These are triathletes who are regulars on the winner's podium. "There is no better way for a beginner to progress, to get better, than to be able to talk with somebody who has been there," said the 55-year-old Alsop, who started his tri career in the early 1980s as well. "If you are serious about the sport, being part of any team will help you in the long run."
Rebecca Marsh, a 36-year-old triathlon coach and KLR member from Lakeland, said she recommends that her clients train with other triathletes, if possible.
"It helps keep you motivated," said Marsh, an accomplished time trial cyclist. "Triathlons are hard. Why try to do it your own?"
Contact Terry Tomalin at [email protected]