Melissa and Brad Atkins, who began running for fun and exercise 14 years ago, founded the Possum Town Triathlon in 2012. This year's seventh renewal of the triathlon will be held Saturday at Columbus Lake. Photo by: Courtesy photo
August 11, 2018 10:06:48 PM
There is probably no couple in the Golden Triangle whose names are more associated with running than Brad and Melissa Atkins.
For one thing, they are enthusiastic runners -- both have been running in triathlons for years. Brad has run two Ironman triathlons and Melissa has run in a half Ironman. But they are also race founders and organizers, including the seventh annual Possum Town Triathlon, which will be held Saturday at Columbus Lake.
What might be surprising to learn is that Brad and Melissa discovered their passion for running relatively late.
"Neither one of us were runners growing up," Melissa said, chuckling at the idea. "We started running in our 30s, mainly for exercise."
"Back then, we had no idea where this would take us," Brad agreed. "But we both realized that it was fun."
In the 14 years since the couple took up running as exercise, they've advanced from 5K runs to half-marathons (13.1 miles) to marathons (26.2 miles) to a variety of triathlons.
While the Possum Town Triathlon is a competitive event sanctioned by USA Triathlon, the sport's governing body, its format is appealing to competitive athletes, novices and even beginners, a nod to the Atkins' own racing journey.
It is known as a sprint-distance triathlon and consists of a 600-yard swim, a 17-mile bike ride and a 3.3-mile run. By comparison, the traditional triathlon, the one featured in the Olympics, consists of a 1,600-yard swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 10K (6.2-mile) run.
To further encourage novices or newcomers, the Atkins' event also features a relay division where up to three people can combine to swim, bike or run as a team.
The idea, Brad said, was to introduce more people to triathlons.
"Melissa and I have been running triathlons for years, especially the two big ones in Mississippi, the Heart of Dixie Triathlon in Philadelphia and the Sun Fish Triathlon in Meridian," Brad said. "After a while, you begin to get to know people and it becomes kind of like a family. We started thinking, 'Why isn't there a triathlon in Columbus? It's a great city for people to visit and Columbus Lake is a great place for it.'"
They answered the question for themselves and Brad admits it was very much a learning experience.
"Oh, man, we had no idea," he said. "It looks pretty simple until you do it: Order some shirts, get some Powerade, put a few buoys in the water. It's not that simple, not at all."
With the help of veteran race organizers they knew and the enthusiastic support of the community -- this year's race has 15 local sponsors -- the Possum Town Triathlon has grown steadily. Last year, the race attracted more than 200 competitors.
"I'd say about 60 percent of them are from out of town," Brad said. "They're staying in our hotels, eating at our restaurants. It's a pretty good economic boost to the city."
The couple also founded and organized the Columbus Pilgrimage Half-Marathon, which stared in 2013.
"We really started running for exercise and fun," Melissa said. "I don't think either one of us would have ever imagined it would turn into this."
Competitors can register for this year's Possum Town Triathlon, which will begin at 7 a.m. at the boat ramp at Columbus Lake on Wilkins-Wise Road, through Friday. The entrance fee is $85 for individuals and $130 for relay teams.
To register, go to possumtowntriathlon.com.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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