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Northwoods Triathlon binds Engebretson family

When Sarah VanderMeiden entered the Northwoods Triathlon in 2004, little did she know this race in Nevis would turn into an annual Engebretson family reunion.

This year, 17 members and three generations of the Engebretson family participated in the 15th annual triathlon, which was held on Aug. 12. Among the group participating was Paul Engebretson, who was the oldest triathlon competitor at age 80. Sticking with tradition, the Engebretsons gathered at the home of Wayne and Martha (Engebretson) Thompson on Sixth Crow Wing for a family reunion following the triathlon.

"In 2004, I decided to enter the Northwoods Triathlon as it was located near my aunt and uncle's home near Nevis," said VanderMeiden, who resides in Cloquet and completed her seventh individual Northwoods Triathlon. "At the 2005 race, my uncle (Paul Engebretson) said he was going to be 70 the next year and was going to do the triathlon with me. Naturally, some of the kids had to come cheer us on at the 2006 race and some participated with us in the 2007 race, where more relatives decided to come watch. One thing led to another and 2017 found 17 members of my extended family competing. The Northwoods Triathlon has turned into a family reunion with the race becoming a common thread that binds our family."

"In 2004, Sarah registered for the tri and stayed with us during the event. My husband and daughters became interested as well and my brother (Paul) joined a team as a biker. Soon his children and grandchildren started taking part," said Martha Thompson, who served as the host for the descendants of Herman and Agnes Engebretson. "The event has become an Engebretson family reunion. Family members who are spectators become motivated to become involved. Once involved, they usually want to participate again."

Five members of the family competed as individuals while the other 12 comprised four relay teams. Lois Zak, the daughter of the Thompsons, earned family bragging rights by completing the triathlon in 1:40:25 to finish third in the women's 50-54 age division. Nathan Thompson (the son of the Thompsons who flew in from Boston) finished in 1:51:42 to finish 11th in the men's 55-59 age division. AnnMarie Engebretson (a great niece of the Thompsons) finished in 1:55:58 to place seventh in the women's 20-24 age division. Matt Grounds (one of the Thompson's grandsons) clocked a 1:57:36 to finish fifth in the men's 25-29 age division. VanderMeiden (a niece of the Thompsons) was fifth in the women's 50-54 age division with a time of 2:03:17.

Competing in the co-ed relays were Claire Engebretson-Gilman (great niece), Sandy Emmons (niece) and Jonathan Engebretson (great nephew) on the "Aunty and 2 Cousins" team (12th in 1:33:12); Amy Engebretson (niece), Paul Engebretson (brother) and Johanna Engebretson (great niece) on the "JoPa" team (22nd in 1:41:02); Peder Engebretson (nephew), Mark VanderMeiden (nephew-in-law) and Rachel Grounds (daugher) on the "Cuz We Tri" team (23rd in 1:46:39); and Kristen Ostendorf (niece-in-law), John Engebretson (nephew) and Allison Engebretson (niece-in-law) on the "In Laws" team (24th in 1:47:09).

"All 17 completed what they had registered, so all were successful," said Martha Thompson.

"Everyone finished, but more importantly, everyone had a great time," said VanderMeiden. "It seems as though each year, somebody else decides to challenge themselves by entering the tri and more often than not they continue to participate. Each year I am simply blown away by the tradition of fitness and family I started by entering that one race so long ago."

The Engebretson family is already looking forward to the 2018 race, which could see the record of 17 family members participating broken.

"The Northwoods Triathlon is a great race for families. The distances are manageable for almost anyone and the course is in a beautiful setting," said VanderMeiden. "The race is well-run, the people are friendly and everyone ends up having a great time. I can definitely say we will be back next year."