ST. PETERSBURG — Back in 1993, when Rue Morgan and a few friends got together for dinner one night, the conversation turned to triathlons.
"The sport had been around for more than a decade," said Morgan, who has completed the granddaddy of all endurance events, the Ironman in Hawaii. "You would see the same people at all the races, but there was really no way for us all to get together."
Morgan, his wife, Katy, and Katie and Ralph Perry, tossed around a few names for a local triathlon club. "The St. Pete Lunatics rose right to the top of the list, because everyone knows that you have got to be a little bit crazy when all you want to do is swim, bike and run."
"Finally we came up with the name Mad Dogs and it just stuck," Morgan said. "Today, we are the largest triathlon club in the country."
On Saturday, the club will celebrate its 15th anniversary at The Tavern at Bayboro adjacent to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, which has been Mad Dog central since the club's first organized training session.
The club averages about 1,000 active members at any given time.
"People drop out, new people join," said Morgan, who for more than a decade has been the heart and the soul of the organization. "But the core group is always there."
Experience is not required. Many new members have never seen, let alone competed in, a triathlon. The club's slogan sums up its attitude: "Fun loving triathletes who train, race and howl together," with major emphasis on the word "fun."
"The whole idea of a triathlon is it is supposed to be fun," Morgan said. "So that is how we approach everything. We try to have fun."
Strength in numbers
During the summer, the Mad Dogs hold an organized ocean swim on Pass-a-Grille Beach every Wednesday night.
When the water gets too cold for some to swim, crowds gather on Thursday nights at the Tavern for a weekly organized run.
But the greatest benefit of membership is the camaraderie.
"Somebody new will come out and before they know it, they have found a training partner," Morgan said. "You always do better when you have a partner to push you.
An unofficial prerequisite for membership is a heavy dose of humility, and if you don't come well equipped, you can learn on the job.
"We have some pretty good athletes here," Morgan said. "There is always somebody a little stronger, a little faster."
Morgan gets a lot of inquiries from wannabe triathletes and is so confident of the club's fitness powers that anybody who comes Saturday will be able to finish a triathlon by next year's anniversary party.
The Tampa Bay area has at least a half dozen "sprint" triathlons which consist of a ¼-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run.
"If you can swim, you can do it," Morgan said. "If you can't swim ... well, then, we can work on that too."
It takes a commitment of swimming two days a week, riding three days and running four days a week.
Membership can benefit experienced triathletes as well. Card-carrying Mad Dogs will be given first chance to sign up for the 2009 St. Anthony's Triathlon, considered the national triathlon season opener.
Signup is 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with the party from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.