What a fantastic story to be able to tell – an amazing experience and accomplishment. Well done Ben and thank you for sharing it.
In the days before internet, word of a new sport called triathlon had reached Maurice Mullins and he was keen to have a go. In the summer of 1983 Maurice led a group of sporting pioneers to organise Ireland’s first triathlon in his home town of Skerries, North County Dublin.
The first triathlon (with broadly the same rules and format we are familiar with today) is understood to have taken place in San Diego in 1974 and the first iron distance race was held in Kona, Hawaii in October 1978 to settle an argument over who was fitter, swimmers, cyclists or runners. Less than five years later the town of Skerries was writing its own name into the triathlon history books.
Maurice, who grew tired of the hard tackles of rugby and hurling, took up running in his 30s and for him it quickly developed into an addiction, he didn’t keep an exact count but thinks he ran about 130 marathons, 20 100km races and “six or seven” 24 hour races. Maurice also represented his country in long distance and ultra-running events and even lined up to start the Western States 100 (a 100mile running race with 5,500m of climbing across the Sierra Nevada Mountains) but an unfortunate tumble into a deep hole of snow meant he was unable to finish.
Following the success of Ireland’s first triathlon the sport took a hold in Ireland and grew quickly with the first National Championships taking place in October 1983 in Greystones Co. Wicklow and a regular event sprung up in Ross’s Point Co. Sligo, an annual 70.3 event that was used as a qualifier for the Ironman World Championships in Kona throughout the late 80s. Four years later Maurice brought the first long distance triathlon to Ireland hosting an Ironman distance race in Skerries. As well as organising he also competed! Maurice’ many sporting achievements included founding the annual Wicklow Way Ultra race, becoming an early president of Triathlon Ireland and a life time achievement award from Outsider magazine.
Since Maurice Mullins set the ball rolling in 1983, the Skerries Triathlon has become an annual event in the Irish triathlon calendar with many groups taking up the organisation mantle over the years including Belpark Triathlon Club.
This year, for the 3rd year running, Fingal Triathlon Club have taken over the organisation of the race.
This year was the first time in the races 33-year history that the infamous Black Hills were omitted and instead the course was a pancake flat loop out the coast road to the North.
My Skerries Tri Experience
I was delighted to be lining up for my home town race and loved the look of the new course. The gun went early on Sunday 11th September and 250 competitors dove into the choppy waters of the Skerries South beach in two separate waves. Despite shoulder problems I stunned myself with a strong swim keeping me in the mix.
The first 1.5km of the bike was a technical narrow winding section through the beachside lanes of the Hoar Rock area of Skerries, my family home so happens to be off one of these lanes so I could have taken the corners blindfolded. Knowing I was making up time added to the adrenalin I was feeling after the good swim. Out onto the flat TT section of the course I put the head down and just went for it.
Off the bike and out on the run, a marshal confirmed I was in 4th. I could see 3rd and 2nd not far ahead. I caught both and the three of us ran together briefly before they began to fall off the pace at the first turn around. I passed Lynn Algar supporting some of the Junior athletes who kindly reminded me not to relax, that every second counted and that the guys in wave two would be closing fast. At the turn around point the leader was clear ahead but I pushed on hard conscious of Lynne’s words.
On the return leg I could tell by race numbers which of the wave 2 guys were doing well. I crossed the line 2nd and was over the moon. My overall result was 5th, losing three places to guys in Wave 2. It was a great way to end my triathlon season with the 2nd fastest bike split of the day and a 17min run.
The Maurice Mullins Trophy
At 64 Maurice was diagnosed with Cancer. His resilience and lust for life ensured he fought hard against the disease and he went on to run another 3 marathons. However, 5yrs later his cancer was back, this time in his spine. He never lost his aspirations to run again but unfortunately he passed away on St. Stephen’s Day 2015.
This weekend his family were still involved with the organisation of the Skerries Triathlon 33years on, along with the family members of Tony Broderick, another early pioneer of the Skerries race who passed away this year.
The Maurice Mullins Trophy is to be awarded to the first Skerries local, both male and female and I was delighted to accept this new perpetual trophy from Deirdre Mullins, Maurice’ daughter.
I urge you all to take time to watch this 12 minute, award winning, documentary made by Deirdre as a lasting record of her father’s reflections on his life achievements and his resilient attitude in the face of cancer.
Triathlon wasn’t always the razzmatazz of the Olympics, the Ironman brand, carbon bikes with disk wheels, finishers medals and “free” t-shirts. Its origin is one of true grass roots and one man’s desire for him and his friends to just ‘have a go’. It’s important to remember that, and also to be thankful, of Maurice’ attitude as that is why we can enjoy the sport we love so much today.
This attitude lived on in Olga Meade and Louise Morgan in Skerries this year as they and their teams organised an excellent and very enjoyable race in what has to be one of the most picturesque triathlon’s in Ireland made even better with a little understanding of the history the race holds. Well done to all involved, I’m pretty sure Maurice would have been a very proud man to see his legacy live on during such a great occasion.