After going virtual in 2020, the event considered one of the most beautiful urban marathons in the country is back in-person Sunday. But for many runners, Saturday's Twin Cities Marathon events will provide the sweetest victories. Since 2008, a national nonprofit called My Team Triumph (myteamtriumph-mn.org) has brought together people with disabilities and volunteer athletes to run as teams in road races and triathlons. After a pandemic pause, 12 teams will run Saturday in the 10K and 5K. Minnesota chapter founder and president, 33-year-old Ben Delkoski of Lakeville, shares more about the organization, why finishing isn't even the most thrilling part, and his personal confession about running.
Q: Happy to be back?
A: It's a big deal that My Team Triumph is up and running again. It's a break in the social isolation that we've all felt these past 18 months — isolation that's familiar, and often tougher, for people with disabilities.
Q: Does your nonprofit oversee more than just running events?
A: Yes, we sponsor mostly running, but we're starting to get into triathlons, too. While we're sticking with the 10K and 5K this year, (and I'll be "pushing" in the 5K), we also do 10-mile events and marathons, but this year training for the longer races was required during a time that wasn't safe.
Q: You have "captains" and "angels." Please tell us more about each of them.
A: The captains are the participants; the race is really all about them. They're usually 8 to 18 years old, although we do have some participants in their early 20s, and we had one who was only 2. We also have veterans. All are affected by physical or mental limitations that normally preclude them from athletic events. This is an exciting experience for them that is free of charge.
Q: And the angels?
A: They're an unbelievably diverse group of athletes who have the honor of pushing and/or pulling a captain on the course. Sometimes, they're a family member or caregiver, but a lot of them are not tied to the disability community. Maybe they've mastered the 5K and 10K and are looking for another challenge or reason to run. They might be thinking, "I'm now going to run for somebody else."
Q: Your own involvement happened in a serendipitous way, didn't it?
A: I'm more into triathlons and, ironically, running is my least enjoyable event. I was participating in a triathlon in Door County in 2014 and, as I was standing in the water, a boat went past me, then another, and I saw the individuals with disabilities preparing with their angels for the swim. That knocked me down about 36 pegs. I felt so humbled. I wanted to learn about who they were. By the end of the race, I learned about My Team Triumph and decided that I'd come back to Minnesota and get involved with the local chapter. But there wasn't one. So I called the national office and said, "Hey, I'd love to start a chapter here."
Q: What do you do outside of this volunteer work?
A: I work for Target in the supply chain. Aside from running and triathlons, I also like to fish and golf.
Q: How many chapters are there nationwide?
A: The original chapter began in 2008 in Grand Rapids, Mich., by the running community there that wanted to give back and help individuals with disabilities. Since then it's grown into 13 states, with most participation in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Q: How do you raise money and where does it go?
A: Captains are given their own donation pages and, through those pages, angels are tasked with reaching a fundraising goal. Donations raised cover the captains' race entry fees and team shirts/jerseys. We also provide equipment, such as adaptive joggers. These can cost $6,000 to $9,000, making them a barrier to entry for most families.
Q: Before the pandemic, were you growing pretty steadily each year?
A: We were. I started the Minnesota chapter in 2015 with my family and friends. From 2015 to 2019, we were gaining athletes and equipment. From a few races early on, we grew to 106 captains and 241 angels, 2,595 miles run and more than $150,000 raised. That allowed us to buy 16 adaptive joggers. In 2020, we were set to have our biggest race ever, but it got canceled. With all the pent-up demand, we'll have 38 participants this year, including both captains and angels.
Q: What's the vibe at the finish line?
A: It is unbelievably hard to explain. Our captains have the same level of excitement from the time they start the race to the end. They're feeling a breeze on their face and seeing a crowd watching them and cheering them on. It's just pure joy. Captains who are able to have their hands up in the air celebrating every mile. And the medal at the finish line is something they're not used to getting. One captain wears his medal for the next month. But the spectators love it as well. When you are pushing the chair, it's amazing to see spectators processing what they're seeing. They almost always pull out their phone and take a picture.
Q: For people who aren't runners, is there an opportunity to volunteer with My Team Triumph?
A: We would love to have them! We have opportunities to serve at water stops, cheer at our cheer zones, help set up, and manage race day. They can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.