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A classic song from Noel Coward declares “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” In Florida’s Tampa Bay area that list also includes triathletes—3,936 of them, to be exact. As one of the largest triathlon clubs in the United States, the St. Pete Mad Dogs spend plenty of time in the midday sun, training, racing, and encouraging others in their community to do the same.
“We like to say we’re fun-loving triathletes who train, race, and howl together, with all levels of experience and expertise,” said Mad Dogs president John Hollenhorst.
The club was established in 1993 by triathletes Rue and Kathy Morgan, who were looking to promote the sport in their community. They saw their biggest opportunity in creating an organization that was equal parts training group and social club. In St. Petersburg, where the Mad Dogs are headquartered, many residents were not explicitly looking for triathlon; instead, they simply wanted to enjoy the sunshine and year-round outdoor activities. After joining the Mad Dogs for open-water swims, group rides, and fun runs within a social context, many casual members soon found themselves bitten by the triathlon bug.
The Mad Dogs pride themselves on removing as many barriers to entry as possible for new triathletes. Upon entry into the club, new members receive a club shirt, swim cap, a calendar of daily free training events, and access to an extensive network of triathletes, coaches, trainers, and resources. They also host a free race, named the “Hair of the Dog Triathlon,” on Jan. 1 each year, which is followed by a potluck lunch where new and prospective members can talk tri with seasoned vets.
The common theme of the Mad Dogs is that triathlon is supposed to be fun. Though they boast an impressive number of podium finishers (including USAT Hall of Fame inductee Jackie Yost), they have few members who take themselves seriously. At offbeat events like the annual Bikini Run during the week of St. Anthony’s Triathlon, Mad Dog and original Ironman Dave Orlowski can be seen joining in on the shenanigans.
“This club provided a welcoming and ongoing nucleus for triathletes ages 18 to 93 years old to gather, share information, pursue their athletic dreams, support each other, and celebrate accomplishments,” Hollenhorst said. “We work together to benefit our community, and every photo taken at our events show huge smiles as participants and volunteers share the joys of being a Mad Dog.”