Family, Faith Fueling Siblings' Foray Into St. Anthony's Triathlon

April 08, 2024
Four men and two women stand arm and arm along a beach.
Standing along North Shore Beach in St. Petersburg where the St. Anthony’s Triathlon will begin are the Waechter siblings, from left, Mike, Mary, Meghan, Joe, Tommy and Donny. They are all participating in their first St. Anthony's Triathlon Sprint-distance race on April 28.


Sometime after dawn on April 28, as the sun slowly rises on another St. Anthony’s Triathlon, a throng of participants will amass along the shoreline ready to brave the waves of Tampa Bay. But we’re not talking about the several thousand hearty souls who will gather early that Sunday for the 41st edition of the world-renowned competition in downtown St. Petersburg.

This is an entirely different crowd – consisting of six adult siblings from one very large family with widespread St. Petersburg roots; a hometown racing contingent complete with its own catchy calling card. Meet the “Waechter Sector.”

Though they have been taking part in area triathlons since 2016 in various configurations, this will mark the first time the weekend Waechter warriors will compete together in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon – comprising one of the largest assemblage of siblings in the race at the same time, and by far the biggest this year. 

It is a genuine family affair that currently involves six of the nine Waechter kids – Donny, 41, a geologist who travels the country; Joe, 39, a business law and estate planning attorney; Mary, 37, an elementary school teacher; Mike, 35, and Tommy, 31, who work in project management at a local construction company; and Meghan, 28, a director of training for a cannabis company. As for the other three – Lizzy, 33, John, 32 and Jimmy, 27 – they’re on notice, no pressure of course, that a future St. Anthony’s Triathlon awaits.

“Our goal is to get all nine of us,” says Joe, as the others laugh and nod in agreement on a recent evening in North Shore Park, not far from where they will be taking part in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon Sprint-distance race.

The St. Anthony’s Sprint Triathlon, which began in 2014, recently was voted one of the top 5 sprint events in the United States in a USA Today/10Best Readers’ Choice Poll. The Sprint includes a half-mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run. 

“Hey, we’re going to try to get our dad to do this with us, too,” adds Donny Waechter.

Considering that Don, the head of the clan, is one of nine children himself, the potential pool for future Waechter triathlon participants is formidable, indeed. Waechter cousins, aunts and uncles abound in the area – including first cousin Doug Waechter, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher and now a high-profile member of the Rays’ broadcast crew.

“I’m very proud of my family, and happy that they get to take on that challenge together,” he says. “I’m also happy I am out of town and can’t make the race myself, because I’m not sure this body was built for a triathlon!”



A large group with a man and women and several boys and girls dressed in similar clothing sit in the grass with a dog for a family portrait.
The large Waechter family, pictured here from many years ago with the family dog, has been a staple in St. Petersburg for years.


Tackling the St. Anthony’s Triathlon as a team is light years from the days the Waechter kids used to turn their northeast St. Petersburg neighborhood into their own personal playground – with endless games of street hockey, spontaneous games of a capture-the-flag type of activity they devised, called Manhunt, and free-wheeling tackle football in the nearby parks. As they got older, all the Waechter kids moved into organized activities – from swimming at Northeast High to football for the Northeast Bandits youth league team, and later St. Petersburg High School and St. Petersburg Catholic High, to cheerleading and marching band.

“Growing up, our parents really encouraged us to do a sport, and they let us do different ones until we found the ones we liked,” says Mary, the most experienced triathlete in the family. “Their only rule was that we had to finish the season – even if we didn’t like that sport, we had to finish it out. I wasn’t crazy about that, but I’m so glad they insisted on it – and we all tried a bunch of sports. I did ballet and jazz dancing, indoor soccer, swimming and basketball and was always active.”

“This is exactly how so many young people start in the sport,” said Patrick McGee, Triathlon manager and race director. “Swimming, biking and running are all things we do as kids. Triathlon just puts them all together. Especially in our Meek & Mighty Triathlon, we see lots of siblings in the event. We’re glad when siblings get together to offer each other encouragement in all of our events.”

Eight years ago, Mary caught the triathlon bug, competing in her first race at Fort DeSoto, and persuaded younger sister Meghan to give the sport a try. Mary, a teacher at Sanderlin K-8 school, loved the thrill of being in the open water rather than a pool; Meghan, not so much at first.

“I wouldn’t say I was hooked – I had more of a rude awakening because I’d never done anything that physically intense,” Meghan recalls. “But there was definitely a feeling of accomplishment.”

Meanwhile, triathlons gradually began to take hold on the other siblings. Several years ago, a sizable group of Waechters gathered at Fort DeSoto for a family tradition – a group swim to a buoy and back. “That particular day, the water was freezing and I was in the worst shape of my life, so I wound up doggy-paddling back to shore,” Joe recalls. “Thankfully I made it! And that was the same year I decided to do a triathlon.”

Mike had already competed in several, inspired by the Mary-Meghan sister act, and had set out to get the family involved, starting with Tommy. From there, the team took root, with more and more siblings embracing the sport – as a way to rekindle the competitive spark from youth and prep sports and the spirit of camaraderie.

“My dad always had something he called the Five ‘Fs’ – the pillars of a happy and fulfilling life,’” Meghan explains. “The first one is faith, followed by family, friends, fitness and fiscal responsibility. He always stressed the importance of those things – putting God first and being grateful for your blessings, taking care of your family and those less fortunate than you. I know we all feel the same way.”

Small wonder that whenever they gather for a race, the Waechter siblings always meet up at the starting line to soak in the moment and say a prayer. “We just express our gratitude for all being there together,” Joe says. 

Then, one by one, they dive into the waves, pursuing individual goals yet powered by a lifelong family bond that forever fuels the Waechter Sector.

Learn more about the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, which includes Olympic- and Sprint-distance events on Sunday, April 28, and a Meek & Mighty Triathlon on Saturday, April 27, and features professional athletes, amateurs and first-time triathletes. Spaces are still available to participate or volunteer at


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