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Through Cancellations and COVID, the Louisville Landsharks Adapt

Even the cancellation of the biggest race in town, Ironman Louisville, can’t stop this club from spreading their love of swim-bike-run.

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Like many triathlon clubs, the Lousiville Landsharks Multisport Club has seen an ebb and flow in membership over the years. Like many triathlon clubs, the Landsharks have adapted and responded to ensure they were meeting the needs of the multisport athletes in their community. And like many triathlon clubs, the Landsharks are rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a halt to all in-person gatherings, the staple of many groups.

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“The hard part came during COVID,” said Louisville Landsharks president Patrick Mickler. “We lost members due to races being canceled. We couldn’t meet in person, for the safety of our members. Then Ironman Louisville was canceled, and the contract not renewed.”

Since the club’s inception in 1996, the focus has been on building the multisport community in Kentucky’s most populous county. With a robust multisport scene in the Louisville area in the late 1990s, the club quickly grew to 100 members. Numbers really surged in 2007, when Louisville was announced as the newest location in the Ironman portfolio of races. With local interest in triathlon growing, the Landsharks capitalized on their ability to cater to every level of athlete, from beginner to elite. In the 12 years that followed, the Landsharks were a staple at the race, winning several club awards for their large and spirited presence. Club membership grew to over 300.

“Every member, new and old, did at least one event with the club, whether that be their first marathon, bike event, sprint, or Ironman,” Mickler said. “We truly became an all-inclusive, welcoming club no matter your experience level, gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability.”

And then the COVID pandemic hit. Though club members stayed in touch through social media, sharing workouts from their shelter-in-place setups, they faced many of the same challenges as triathlon clubs across the country. A lot of triathletes found it hard to train when there were no races to train for, and the biggest race in town, Ironman Louisville, was canceled in 2020 and discontinued in 2021. To date, no return has been announced.

“We tried our best, but a lot of members didn’t want to be part of a club when there weren’t events,” Mickler said.

Instead of accepting defeat, the club chose to rally. Once restrictions were slowly lifted, they began meeting weekly again for casual group rides and runs. Then, the club began to host open water swims with kayak support twice per month. Though the activity is what attracts people to these events, the emphasis has been on helping people have fun and make personal connections with other swim-bike-run enthusiasts—something that was sorely missed by many during lockdown.

“We also have monthly socials around town where we can meet up, talk about how our training is going, and just have fun,” Mickler said.

And when smaller local races returned to Louisville, so did the Landsharks, with all the gutso that led to winning all those club awards at their hometown Ironman.

These efforts have led to a resurgence of members. Currently, the Landsharks have a roster with about 200 names, with more joining every month. There are new club runs and improvements to open-water swim events, including the addition of buoys for sighting practice.

“No matter what, we have members that care about the club and community,” Mickler said. “That even in times when we are losing members, we find ways to change, grow, and think outside the box to give our members what they need. I am very excited for what this next year will bring.”

Mickler admits it takes a lot of work to keep a club going and growing as they rebuild from the setbacks of the last two years, but the community’s shared love of multisport helps to keep the passion alive.

“We are here because we love this sport, whether it is a triathlon (any distance), running, or cycling. We just want to spread that love to all, and have fun while doing it.”

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