SEA ISLE CITY - Matt McCulley wants to keep the "memorial" in Memorial Day and for everyone to remember the great sacrifices military veterans have made. That's why he decided to start a triathlon called Tri for Our Veterans, to be held Saturday, May 24, in Sea Isle City.
The event will raise funds for local VFW Post 1963 and for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, based in San Diego, which helps rehabilitate injured veterans. McCulley, who lives outside Philadelphia but has a home in Sea Isle City, said the race's main goal is to benefit veterans while focusing on the sacrifices they made to this country.
"My generation mostly went to college, not into the military," McCulley said. "That's the exact opposite of the previous generation, where many people joined the military. I want people to refocus on veterans during the Memorial Day weekend, and this is my way of doing that. We hope to have at least 300 participants in the event, which will be held on the island in the early morning so as not to interfere with traffic and visitors to the island for the holiday."
The event includes a quarter-mile ocean swim off JFK Boulevard; a 12.3 mile bicycle course looping from JFK Boulevard to Pleasure Avenue to 79th Street to Landis Avenue and back to Pleasure Avenue; and a 3.1 mile beach run also beginning at JFK Boulevard. Participants can choose to do the entire race themselves or sign up relay partners to each do one leg of the event.
McCulley, who works for Microsoft, said he's been running marathons for 11 years and started doing triathlons about four years ago.
"I love the challenge it takes to increase your stamina each time," McCulley said. "Most triathletes excel at one part of the race, but it's a constant challenge to bring your skill level up in the events you're weakest at."
McCulley's father-in-law, Gerry Quinlan, served in the Army, and his grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. McCulley said he planned the event to increase awareness of the military, especially in light of current conflicts.
"We need to support all veterans and the ones serving now in Iraq," McCulley said. "Every one of them is a hero, and every one of them deserves our highest respect. There are more than 4,000 soldiers who have been killed in the Iraq War, and I hope when people watch the race it will be a sobering reminder of the great sacrifices each veteran made for this country. I know I want my own three children to be reminded of veterans, and my hope is that many people will not only enter this triathlon but that others come out and watch the event and cheer people on. We hope to make this an annual event."
McCulley said the city and local VFW have been instrumental in getting the race off the ground.
"The city has given us an overwhelming show of support, with the local police on board to help direct traffic, the beach patrol will watch swimmers on the ocean leg and the city actually helped us redesign the bike course. It's been a real three-way partnership."
The VFW will use the funds raised to rebuild the Veteran's Memorial Fountain at JFK Boulevard and Landis Avenue. A team from the Semper Fi Fund also will participate in the race.
"There are 12 people coming from Team Semper Fi who will participate for free, and we need to welcome and support them," McCulley said. "These are veterans who have suffered gunshots, burns, lost limbs. Semper Fi picks up helping these veterans where other organizations leave off. They may provide funds for family travel expenses to rehab or rehabilitate a veteran's home if they are physically challenged.
"My overall reason for having this event is to keep the memorial in Memorial Day," McCulley added. "I want everyone to leave Sea Isle that day giving the highest praise for all veterans and for what they've done for our country."
Cheryl Castor, assistance superintendent of recreation for Sea Isle City, said the city is honored to be part of such an event.
"It's a wonderful idea, and the city couldn't be happier to have Matt's race here on the island," Castor said. "It will be such a great reminder to everyone of what Memorial Day is all about. We are so pleased to be part of this. Matt has really organized this event so well, and it's coming together without a hitch. Our biggest challenge now is to find about 890 to 900 volunteers to help hand out water bottles and for traffic control."
IF YOU GO
Tri for Our Veterans will be held at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, May 24, with check-in at JFK Boulevard and Landis Avenue beach. The cost is $80 until Wednesday, April 30, and $85 after that date. There will be awards for the overall top three finishers (men/women) and the top three in each age category. To volunteer, call the Department of Recreation at 263-0050. For more information, call 610-574-5974 or see: