Marlene Church

Marlene Church receives a prize after winning her age group in the 16th annual Musselman Triathlon the weekend of July 12-14th, 2019. Marlene competed in the miniMussel, a modified version of the Duathlon.

GENEVA — Out of all the athletic events the city of Geneva hosts in the summertime, Musselman stands among the most popular.

Athletes flock from across the entire country to have their shot at the course and race in the picturesque Finger Lakes in the height of summer. Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas and Illinois were some of the faraway states represented at the 16th annual event.

It’s no surprise, as Musselman has numerous awards and is regarded as one of the best races in the world — it was chosen as the most “family-friendly” race in the United States two years in a row, according to Triathlete Magazine.

The Musselman weekend in Geneva included four events: the Musselman, the mini-Mussel, the microMussel and the MusselKids. The microMussel and MusselKids are not believed to be in next year’s events after the acquisition of Musselman by Ironman.

Regardless of ownership, the number of miles spent running, biking and swimming are enough that only a select few have the physical tools and discipline to finish the race.

For some athletes, the race is right at home.

Twenty-four of the estimated 1,300 athletes were from Geneva, and hundreds more hailed from the Finger Lakes region and other parts of New York state.

One of those local athletes was Marlene Church of Geneva.

Church participated in the mini-Mussel, a race that is not as demanding as the Mussleman, but still offers a challenge few can meet. The mini-Mussel has two course of actions to choose from: one begins with a 750-meter swim, a 16-mile bike ride and a 3.1 mile run to finish. The other option is a 2-mile run, a 16-mile bike ride finished with a 3-mile run.

Church chose to swim, ending with a final time of 2:47:15, was split into a 26-minute swim, an hour-and-18-minute bike ride and 53 minutes of running.

Oh, did we mention Marlene is closing in on 80 years old?

To put her numbers into context, the fastest female in the race was Jennie Hansen of Rochester, who finished with a time of 1:14:44. What makes Marlene’s finish such a triumph is that she competed in the age group that is more than double the age of Hansen’s.

Church turns 80 this month, and she just completed a triathlon that the vast majority of people would struggle to complete. Yet for Marlene, it was just another race.

“It wasn’t so bad,” Church said. “Everybody was very friendly, and it didn’t matter where they came from. They’re all athletes. There was encouragement all around.”

Perhaps Church received so much encouragement because during the race, the participants wear a bib with their age for all to see. It may not feel like the most flattering attire, but for others to see someone her age active and engaged a race like the Musselman, it inspires others to keep pushing to get better, regardless of the number of candles on their birthday cake.

Church said she participated in the second Musselman, in 2005, and had done it in “four or five times since.” She did it when she turned 75 and decided to do one more just before her 80th birthday with members of her family visiting for the weekend.

The ageless wonder modestly admitted to swimming across Seneca Lake when she turned 70, and continues to be active whenever possible.

“I try and do something aerobic once a week,” she stated. “I run, bike, kayak and golf.”

Church also has ran in the Seneca7 relay race and has completed numerous other local running events.

Those that saw her compete Saturday may have watched Church’s swan song.

“I plan on this being my last one, but you never know,” she said.

Based on her track record, it may be folly to believe this was her last go-round.

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