31 Jul Renowned West Michigan Race Director Turns the Page
BY THOMAS CAPRARA, STELLAFLY GUEST WRITER
It started 21 years ago when the then-President of the YMCA board in Grand Haven sat with him on the grass after trying out a new tri-bike. The two longtime friends talked for a bit and later cast the thought that Grand Haven would be a great–if not the perfect–place for a triathlon.
At the time, Ron Knoll had done about 40 triathlons. After pulling together a feasibility committee and launching the permitting process with resounding success, all that was left was to fire the starting gun. Within years, Ron became the first race director in Michigan to be certified by USAT. The rest is history.
At 65, Ron has directed over 130 races. He has curated the Grand Haven Triathlon, Bear Lake Triathlon, the Armed Services Marathon, and many others on a contractual basis. In 2019 and 2022, he was voted West Michigan’s Best Race Director – an achievement he will always hold to his heart.
“We strive to put on a quality event that is safe and enjoyable for all the athletes. We hope we can make an impact on someone’s life – to accomplish something they’ve never done or to allow people to reach new goals,” Ron said. “Never did I believe I would see my name and “legacy” in the same sentence.”
When prompted about all the sponsors and assistance he’s received over the years, Ron was quick to interrupt and note that he is just “one spoke in the wheel.”
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of great help and connections,” he added.
To Ron, race directing has never been a job, just a different way to be involved in his community.
“I enjoy the environment of our sports. To me, it’s just fun to be part of it – that’s why I volunteer at other events as well,” Ron said. “As they say – When you work your passion, you never work a day in your life.”
On July 17th, Tris4Health issued a press release marking the acquisition of the Grand Haven Triathlon, Bear Lake Triathlon, and the Armed Services Marathon. To many, this came as a surprise – Ron Knoll has been a staple to the racing and triathlon community for almost two decades. But to Ron, this was simply his way of passing on the torch.
“Literally no one else that I would want to take over these events. They are quality individuals, very well-respected as race directors,” Ron said.
“We’ve enjoyed a strong friendship ever since they got into race directing. They put on great events. I’m sure they will certainly surpass everything I’ve ever done in my years as a race director–I know their ability as race directors: in marketing and in execution.”
Like Ron Knoll, Jon Conkling and John Mosey are a cornerstone of the West Michigan racing community. More than anything else, the Jon/John duo is excited to see what they can turn these races into without changing their core values.
With these new races, Tris4Health will be the host of 16 events throughout the season.
“The cool thing about Ron’s events – Bear Lake has traditionally been the season opener in West Michigan. It is one of the earlier season events where you get the swim in. We’re very excited about having that piece of it because people get to test their training through the winter,” Jon Conkling told us. “As far as Grand Haven – that venue has the potential to bring people from all over the country.”
Asked about his goals for the three events, Jon mentioned that he just wants to open them up to more and more triathletes.
“We want to build on Ron’s respect for his community,” Jon said. “I’d like to open it up both ways so people can discover Grand Haven and show what Ron’s been doing for 20 years.”
“And if they have a good time, check out these races just a county or two over in Grand Rapids,” Jon added.
To the John/Jon duo, a premier event is their goal. Despite the challenges they have faced in recent years, they have always remained committed to their role in ensuring a safe, fun, and successful event for all their participants.
“Outside of putting on the race itself, community involvement is the most important aspect of this business,” Jon said. “If it wasn’t for [community] sponsorships, races wouldn’t exist. You can’t charge an arm and a leg – you need to find that balance.”
While Ron made the decision to sell these races to Tris4Health, neither Tris4Health nor Ron see him going anywhere.
“Even though I no longer serve the role as race director, put me in as a volunteer somewhere,” Ron said. “I just love to be part of it.”
Without a doubt, we are all incredibly excited to see what West MI races have in store for us in the coming years. For more information related to the Tris4Health acquisition of Superior Motorsport, LLC’s events, please visit their website here.