Back in the race

Hundreds of paddlers, bikers, and runners from throughout the state and beyond will flock to Southwest June 28 for the third annual City of Lakes Tri-Loppet.

The 8 kilometer kayak or canoe contest, 5 kilometer run and 11 kilometer bike race starts on Lake Calhoun, winds through the waterways to the tip of Cedar Lake and travels through grass, dirt and blacktop trails around Theodore Wirth Park, where it ends.

Participants range from children to seniors, recreational athletes to serious competitors, and in south Minneapolis resident Phil Klein’s case, in-laws racing each other for glory and a friendly wager: the loser has to host a barbeque.

The competition, pitting Phil, his brother Dan and his sister Deb against Deb’s husband Colin Klein and his three brothers Ross, Brent and Nolan Peterson, is really just for fun. The families entered the race to get out and have some good, old-fashioned athletic fun together, they said.

But it’s also Phil’s first race since 2000, when he made local headlines after suffering from cardiac arrest at the finish line of the 2000 Twin Cities Marathon. Complications from that incident left Phil without his right leg and paralyzed from the knee down in his left leg.

Phil, now 35, was a recreational runner who had participated in multiple marathons prior to the Twin Cities race in 2000. The injury brought his running days to an abrupt end, but it led him to find new ways to reactivate the “adrenaline drug” he could no longer get from pounding the pavement.

After several months in a hospital, one of Phil’s neighbors introduced him to sea kayaking. Phil quickly embraced the activity.

“That was sort of an entrance back into athletics for me,” he said.

Over the years Phil has also felt the burn using a recumbent bicycle with hand pedals and he’s even tried downhill skiing in a specialized chair.

He said he’s grateful to family and friends, such as the neighbor who introduced him to kayaking, for helping him find new ways to stay active and enjoy the outdoors.

“It’s an amazing experience to see the people you care about step up to make a difference for you,” he said.

Phil’s brother, Dan, is the one who came up with the idea to enter the Tri-Loppet, an event the Klein and Peterson families — whose team names are Ph.D’D and The Peterson Four respectively — will be doing for the first time. Dan said he saw an ad for the race in his mail.

“Of course when I saw the paddling section, I immediately thought of Phil,” Dan said.

Dan, 33, and Deb, 29, have teamed up in triathlons together, but haven’t participated in that type of event with Phil.

Deb said the family is naturally competitive, so even though they’re out to have fun, they’ll likely give it their all.

“When we get together there’s a lot of energy and excitement and this is a great venue to play with that,” Deb said.

The Peterson family is slightly younger, but team Ph.D’D, so called for their brains and the first letters of their names, aren’t overly intimidated. Both teams are looking forward to the race, no matter who has to barbeque in the end.

“It’s just a great opportunity to get out and do something fun in the city,” said Colin, organizer of The Peterson Four.

Phil said he hadn’t given much thought to it being his first race since his injury. He’s hoping that his participation in the event will show others who might be in a similar situation that an injury doesn’t have to prevent them from enjoying life.

“You’ve just got to find other ways to make things happen,” he said.

The Twin Cities Tri-Loppet has several race categories and is open to anyone. The City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation runs the event, which requires the work of about 80 volunteers, said race director John Munger.

Roughly 350 people participated in the race last year. Munger expects 400–500 this year.

Visit www.tri-loppet.com to register or volunteer, or for more information about the event.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.