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Remembering the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon

Posted on Sunday, June 30, 2019

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Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, July 4, 1984, Battery Park in New York to Independence Hall in Philadelphia (Credit: Trihistory.com)

Racing in the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon from New York's Battery Park and Past the Statue of Liberty to Philadelphia's Liberty Bell: 2 Mile Swim Around the Statue of Liberty Area, 90 Mile Bicycle Race from Liberty Park in Jersey City, N.J. to Philadelphia and a 10K Road Race Ending at the Liberty Bell

Talk about the Great American Road Trip... That was one way of describing the 100 mile Liberty to Liberty Triathlon that was part of the Fourth of July festivities in New York and Philadelphia, America's Birthplace. The immortal words of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow seem fitting to describe the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon when Longfellow wrote in "Paul Revere's Ride" -- “One if by land, two if by sea.” 

Long before Wawa Welcome America! was synonmous with the Fourth of July Celebrations in Philly, the first Liberty to Liberty Triathlon was held on July 4, 1983, and it had just 13 Americans competiting, who according to The New York Times, began the race with a rousing chorus of ''The Star Spangled Banner'' before pitching into the waters of the Hudson River. Take a look at the artwork promoting the triathlon, and one will see how the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Bell were incorporated into the signage for the event.

Liberty Bell and Independence Hall

According to Mike Plant of Trihistory.com, in an article entitled, "Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, July 4, 1984,"

"It was a grand idea by an early multisport impressario, Dave Horning: a point-to-point triathlon from the lower end of Manhattan, with a view of the Satue of Liberty, with a finish at the Liberty Bell in downtown Philadelphia. Easier said than done, but somehow most of the 140 starters made it to the finish line in Philly."

In 1984, there were 157 entrants who ranged in age from 15 to 59. The winners of the 1984 Liberty to Liberty Triathlon were:

Ken Glah, 20, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, who completed the triathlon in 4:19:45; Steve Fitch, 21, of West Chester, Pennsylvania who finished in second place at 4:33:35, and third place was Ken Wiseman, 28, of Lakeville, Connecticut, who came in at 4:42:56. According to Glah, 

"We swam across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan across the [Hudson] river past the Statue of Liberty to the shore in New Jersey. It was a pretty crazy swim. After just 10 or 15 minutes, I never saw another swimmer and the harbor was open to ship traffic which did include some massive ships! Luckily nobody was washed out to the Atlantic by the river current or run over by a ship!! In future years, the swim took place on the New Jersey side near the Statue of Liberty."

Ken Glah, Winner of the 1984 Liberty to Liberty Triathlon

Carol Wikfors, 25, of River Vale, New Jersey was the first woman and 10th overall finisher at 5:12:46. Katherine Kraush, 24, New York, came in second place for the women at 5:39:19.

On July 6, 1986, in an article entitled, "Liberty-to-Liberty triathlon grueling race", United Press International reported that,

"More than 450 triathletes Sunday dived off Liberty Island into the murky Hudson River for the grueling swim, bike and run Liberty-To-Liberty Triathlon. To celebrate the Statue of Liberty's 100th birthday, the participants from 46 states and 12 foreign countries splashed in at 8:15 a.m. under a hazy sun on their way from the statue to Independence Hall in Philadelphia."

On July 4, 1988, in an article entitled, "On Your Own; Liberty to Liberty by Land and Sea", The New York Times reported,

"The rallying cry for the 200 athletes competing in today's sixth annual Liberty to Liberty Triathlon and Biathlon could be "Bi, if by land! Tri, if by sea!" The 140 participants choosing the triathlon course will begin the event's trek from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor to the Liberty Bell in downtown Philadelphia with a 1.5-mile swim past the statue and around Ellis Island to Liberty State Park in Jersey City. The 60 who chose the biathlon course will substitute a 10-kilometer run for the swim leg. The second stage of the three-state celebration for both groups is a 100-mile bicycle race across New Jersey into Philadelphia. The last portion of the race is a five-mile run down Chestnut Street to Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell."

At some point, the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon appears to have stopped being held.  However, in 2003, the epic 1980s era race returned to the East Coast triathlon scene to mark the 20th Anniversary of the first Liberty to Liberty Triathlon. 

According to the Enviro Sports organizers of the 2003 Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, 

"Post-9/11 heightened security has added a twist to the finish. Because we cannot finish in close proximity to the Liberty Bell, you’ll cross the finish line at the foot of the steps to the famed Philadelphia Art Museum. One catch: you’ll have to run up the stairs to get your hard-earned finisher’s medal, where our photographer will capture the moment – fist-pumping is completely optional."

Below is a picture courtesy of Chris Bennett's Triathlon and Cycling Blog from the 2007 Liberty to Liberty Triathlon. Chris won 1st place in the Mens 45-49 age division with a time of 5:28:01 on May 27, 2007.

Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, May 27, 2007, Credit: Chris Bennett's Triathlon and Cycling Blog

Take a look at the grueling map for the 2009 Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, which marked the 25th Anniversary of when the first Liberty to Liberty Triathlon was held.

Liberty to Liberty Triathlon Route Map, May 24, 2009, Statue of Liberty in New York to the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Route Details:

  • One-mile swim in the Hudson River parallel to Battery Park, New Jersey
  • 30-minute high-speed ferry ride to Atlantic Highlands passing the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and going under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
  • 11-mile untimed bike prologue from Atlantic Highlands to Lincroft, NJ.
  • 75-mile timed bike from Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ to the end of Hwy. 537 in New Jersey along the shore of the Deleware River and in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
  • 3-mile untimed bike over the Ben Franklin Bridge (along the bike path) and through the street of historic downtown Philadelphia, ending at the Art Museum.
  • 10K out-and-back run along the Schuylkill River, finishing on the apron in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Statue of Liberty

Below is a photo showing Chris Bennett on his bike in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rocky Steps, which he also ran up.

Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, May 27, 2007, Credit: Chris Bennett's Triathlon and Cycling Blog

If that was not enough of a workout, Chris Bennett ran the Rocky Steps at the Art Museum after completing the Liberty to Liberty Trithlon!

Liberty to Liberty Triathlon, May 27, 2007, Credit: Chris Bennett's Triathlon and Cycling Blog

A search of online records suggests that 2009 was the last year that the Liberty to Liberty Triathlon was held.

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