When U.S. star Taylor Knibb broke the tape at the World Triathlon Series Championship in Yokohama, Japan, and sealed her Olympic berth last month, multisport fans around the country rejoiced for the 23-year-old’s surprise and emphatic victory.
The cheers were especially loud in Boston, where a local triathlon club called Team Psycho celebrated one of their own, more or less. After all, the club’s logo was prominently emblazoned across the front of Knibb’s one-piece uniform, easily seen in finish-line photographs that splashed across the screens and pages of major publications touting Knibb, the youngest-ever triathlete to make an American Olympic team.
Knibb is the latest in a long line of triathletes who have benefitted from Team Psycho’s Elite Development Program (EDP). What began 20 years ago as a way to fund a few local triathletes to the Olympic trials has turned into a polished philanthropic system that has given some $425,000 to a host of up-and-coming athletes with big and bold—and golden—dreams.
“We recognized long ago how tough that road to the Olympics is. Kids get out of college when they’re 22, and there’s this gap for up to four years while they’re living hand-to-mouth trying to pursue their dreams” said Carmen Monks, one of the founders of Team Psycho (named in honor of early member Fred Marius who had a rep for “training like crazy”). “We thought, maybe we can do something to help them out by some funding towards that journey.”
A wealth investment manager, Monks initially tapped into his clientele as well as the pockets of club members to provide funding targeted towards expenses and travel to races for athletes. Then, when Team Psycho partnered up with Boston-based Harpoon Brewery to support its annual B2VT (formerly B2B) ride from Bedford, Massachusetts, to Sunapee, New Hampshire, they were able to allocate EDP funds from that event. Prior to 2020, when the B2VT ride was canceled due to COVID, Team Psycho pulled in about $30,000 annually for the EDP from the popular ride. (The 2021 B2VT ride is set for June 19).
With that much capital, Monks said, the club realized they had something they could extend to elite triathletes across the country; not just those hailing from New England. So they partnered with USA Triathlon, which funneled athletes their way. As luck would have it, their first success story happened to be a New England kid, anyway. Jarrod Shoemaker, a Dartmouth grad raised in Sudbury, Massachusetts, joined the Team Psycho EDP roster in 2006 and wound up qualifying for the Olympic games in 2008. “He pulled a rabbit out of his hat for that one,” Monks said. “He was our first Olympian.”
Since then, the “Psycho Karma” has impacted the careers of those including Katie Zaferes, Summer Rappaport, Renee Tomlin, Chelsea Burns, Kirsten Kasper, Taylor Spivey, Keeghan Hurley, and Morgan Pearson, all of whom have made Olympic squads or at least have come quite close. (The EDP has also supported various races in the greater Boston area as well as elite teams and the USAT Collegiate Recruitment program.)
Typically, an athlete is offered funding in exchange for wearing the Team Psycho logo and some commitments, like meet-ups with club members or a blog post here or there. The average contract lasts for one season, although some, like Shoemaker, have stayed on for multiple years. The 2021 class features Michael Smith, the only black paratriathlete in the world and the first above-elbow amputee in military history to remain fit for duty, plus up-and-comers Grace Walthner and Tony Smoragiewicz. And, of course, Knibb.
“We signed Taylor when she graduated from college, anticipating that she would be eyeing the 2024 team. Then all of a sudden she makes it for 2021 which was so cool,” said longtime Team Psycho member Karen Smyers, who, in 1995 became the only woman ever to win both the short course and Ironman world championship in the same year. “Most of the time, we fund an athlete until they get big sponsorships or an agent and we can no longer afford to have our name on their uniform. It’s bittersweet when they move on, but we feel like we did our job.”
Smyers herself received funding from Team Psycho from 2007 to 2010 as she returned to pro racing in her 50s. Now she, along with veteran pro triathlete (and former EDP beneficiary) Dede Griesbauer help out with athlete relations for the EDP and the club, which has some 60 active age-group members who meet regularly for workouts and races throughout the greater Boston area. Having direct access to two of the most successful and experienced American women in the history of the sport is certainly an added bonus for any triathlete who partners with Team Psycho, although the demure Smyers waves away that notion.
“We offer pearls of wisdom here and there, but who knows if they take any of it away,” Smyers joked. “But now, it’s all vicarious for me. We generally love to see these athletes do well. We are a team, we are fellow triathletes, and we are a community that feels like we are part of the journey. We see ourselves as a stepping stone for them to chase their dreams.”