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22 years ago, new triathlete Paul Hekimian had an a-ha! moment that would change the Los Angeles triathlon scene forever.
“I was just getting into triathlon and joined up with a small club affiliated with a local triathlon store,” Hekimian said. “I thought I would learn everything I needed to know about triathlon.”
But as it turned out, the club was more of a shopping incentive than a social network. “They weren’t really doing any group rides, meetings or other things that clubs would normally do,” recalled Hekimian. “I had a strong feeling that a club created independent of a store would thrive.”
Hekimian knew he couldn’t be the only one looking for a community of like-minded individuals, where triathletes could share knowledge and support each other through their training and racing adventures. Getting a discount at a sponsoring shop was nice for members of a triathlon club, but Hekimian wanted to offer something much more valuable. In August 2000, he presented his idea to a few friends: an independent triathlon club, where the focus would be on people, not gear. They liked the idea, and thus the LA Tri Club was born.
To say people were enthusiastic about the idea would be an understatement. In its first year, the LA Tri Club exploded from three people to 150 people to 800. “Needless to say, I was onto something!” Hekimian said.
The enthusiasm never stopped. To date, the LA Tri Club has supported over 20,000 athletes, largely in part to the ethos of fun that permeates every aspect of the club. “Our motto is ‘swim, bike, run and play.’ We believe that play is the cornerstone of the club,” Hekimian said. “We like to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously.”
This is evident at club meetings, charity projects with groups like Challenged Athletes Foundation or Skid Row Running Club, and group rides throughout Los Angeles and the Santa Monica mountains. Though members have plenty of serious conversations on nutrition or training strategies, they’re just as likely to howl with laughter when sharing stories of race-day bloopers.
Their lighthearted approach works especially well in making athletes feel comfortable and supported in taking on new challenges, like tackling a big climb or doing a tough track workout. The most popular activity the club offers is an Ocean 101 class, where participants learn open-water swimming skills.
“The number-one fear in triathlon is swimming in the ocean, and this clinic eliminates that nerve-wracking challenge,” Hekimian said. “Once you go through Ocean 101, you can join the rest of the club members on Friday mornings for our coach-led open water swims. We set up buoys each Friday in the ocean and create different race simulation courses. Afterwards, everyone gathers to enjoy fresh coffee and donuts and share stories.”
The success of the LA Tri Club has served as a model for other clubs around the country, who have adopted both the social structure of the club as well as the technologies the LA Tri Club has pioneered to ensure its success.
“Our website, which we specifically designed and adapted to run a triathlon club, is the hub of the club. It’s something I’ve designed and continue to develop over the last 22 years to fully automate all the tasks of running a club, so you can do more in less time with fewer hands.” Hekimian said. “Just this past year, we began cloning the skeleton and all its layers to be able to solve the countless pain points that fellow triathlon clubs have as they grow and scale. Tri Club of San Diego was our first client, and they are leveraging all the benefits.”
Though technology is what keeps the club running smoothly, it’s the people who make the LA Tri Club so successful.
“I’m most proud of the difference we make in the lives of our members,” Hekimian said. “I get goosebumps when I hear from members that the club has changed their life. That is priceless. That is our why.”
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