Making a Mark at St. Anthony's Meek & Mighty Triathlon

April 27, 2024
A woman in an athletic suit stands on the winner’s podium after accepting an award.
Pam Hollenhorst finished first in her 70-74 age group at the St. Anthony’s Meek & Mighty Triathlon on Saturday. About two years ago, she had both hips replaced at BayCare’s Morton Plant Hospital.


Pam Hollenhorst’s morning began early on a warm and breezy Saturday morning, as she stretched in the crowded transition area and geared up for the St. Anthony’s Meek & Mighty Triathlon on the St. Petersburg downtown waterfront. Behind her, an orange sun began to rise over Tampa Bay and with it, a new day was dawning for the 74-year-old retired attorney from Wisconsin.

Hollenhorst was about to compete in her first Meek & Mighty event – only a couple of years removed from having both hips replaced at BayCare’s Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater. Though she had competed in some smaller triathlons since the surgeries in 2020 and 2021, Hollenhorst had never participated in the St. Anthony’s event. In the end, she gave new meaning to “hip-hip-hooray” – celebrating another big step forward with a fresh pair of hips by winning the 70-74 women’s age-group category with a time of 48:39.

“I’m lucky that I’ve recovered enough and can run,” she said. accompanied by husband John Hollenhorst, an experienced triathlete and president of the St. Pete Mad Dogs Triathlon Club. “There are a lot of good athletes in my age group who are much faster than me, and they’re doing the longer races. It’s not a surprise to see women in their 70s biking just as fast as the men. I picked the shorter race because that’s enough for me – and I feel wonderful.”

The Hollenhorsts typify what the Meek & Mighty is all about – bringing together competitors with a wide range of abilities, goals, ages and stories to test themselves in a scaled-down triathlon. Adults and children 11 and above swim 200 yards, bike 5.4 miles and run a mile, while children ages 7-10 swim 100 yards, bike 3.6 miles and run a half mile. But whatever their motivation for competing – about 700 of them were on the course Saturday – the common denominator is an enormous sense of satisfaction that could be seen in the cheers, hugs and smiles at the finish line – and during the awards ceremony in Vinoy Park.

This will be the site of the 41st annual St. Anthony’s Triathlon on Sunday when weekend warriors and pro athletes from around the country and even overseas compete in the Olympic and Sprint distances in a triathlon regarded as one of the best on the pro circuit.

One woman wearing a pink hat and a yellow shirt hugs another woman wearing a pink visor and a yellow shirt at an athletic competition.
The Atlanta Tri Sisters, a group of African-American athletes from Atlanta, have been bringing their enthusiasm to the St. Anthony’s Triathlon for more than a decade.


“We’ve got about 3,700 athletes competing today and Sunday,” said race director Patrick McGee, as entrants and family members streamed past him in every direction. “We have good temperatures and so many great stories of why people compete in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon year after year. You can’t ask for more.”

The Hollenhorsts certainly can’t. Pam had begun doing triathlons in her 50s but began to experience increasing hip pain from arthritis, making it impossible to swing her leg over a bike. “It got to the point where I couldn’t walk more than a few blocks without pain,” she explained.

Fast forward to 2017. The Hollenhorsts had been vacationing in different parts of Florida during the winter, looking for the ideal spot to retire – John from his magazine publishing work and Pam as a research lawyer at the University of Wisconsin. That led to renting a place on St. Pete Beach for a month in 2016 and returning for the full winter the next year. 

“We were going to go back home in early April, but I said to John, ‘Why don’t we stay a few weeks longer, and you can compete in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon?’” she recalled. “We did and he won his age group (65-69) and loved it! And as we drove back home the next day, I said, ‘Why don’t we just move here? He said, ‘Okay,’ and here we are.” 

Along the way, John became involved as a volunteer with Mad Dogs which has been a St. Anthony’s fixture for decades. In short order he was elected club president. Meanwhile, Pam got her new hips, and now she’s on a roll, running pain free with more triathlons in her future. “It’s been really challenging for her, and she didn’t know if she’d ever be able to compete again,” said John, who will take on the Olympic event Sunday. “To see Pam out there doing what she loves, and leading a fitness lifestyle, is great.”

The Hollenhorsts were just one of many Meek and Mighty tales Saturday. Everywhere you looked, vibrant green T-shirts announced the presence of a St. Anthony’s Triathlon mainstay – The Atlanta Tri Sisters, along with their motto, “Just Want to Tri.” The group consists of African-American women from the Atlanta area who have been traveling to St. Petersburg for more than a decade to compete on both days. The Tri Sisters club was founded by Julie Walker, a retired Atlanta judge and tax attorney, after she took up triathlons as a way to get in better shape.

She was thrilled that one of her 30 Tri Sister athletes, Cora O’Kellie, took a third place in the 70-74 women’s age group – not bad for someone who could not swim at all three years ago, progressing from “only blowing bubbles” to a real swimmer thanks to the group’s coach, Askia Bashir, standing nearby. 

“Cora is amazing,” Walker said. “She was totally a non-swimmer, and it took three years of working on her but look at her now! We’re all about motivation. But we’re also trying to improve the health of Black women, and Black people overall, in the community.”

Bashir, a longtime triathlete who will compete Sunday, added: “Ninety-nine percent of people don’t think of doing triathlons – so many people think, ‘I can’t do it.’  But once they cross the finish line, it’s one of the most unbelievable feelings you can have. And this is a great thing for the Black community, because you don’t often see us in the sport. But we’re helping to change that.”

A man wearing a swimsuit tows an inflatable boat carrying a young woman in a pool during an athletic competition.
Greg Simony tows an inflatable kayak carrying 30-year-old Kelsey McCoy, a Sarasota woman with physical and intellectual disabilities, through the swim portion of the Meek & Mighty Triathlon on Saturday.


Enthusiastic applause also was showered on 30-year-old Kelsey McCoy, a Sarasota woman with physical and intellectual disabilities who was guided by triathlete Greg Simony, who helps special needs individuals compete through his company, Push2Inspire. He met Kelsey’s mom, Lisa McCoy, and by chance learned about her daughter and offered to help her participate in the Meek & Mighty. “Kelsey isn’t verbal, but you can tell from the expression on her face how much she enjoys this,” her mom said. “She loves being the center of attention.”

“It never gets old,” Simony said. “No matter how many of these races you do, when you see someone like Kelsey do this for the first time, and you see them start to smile, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Learn more about the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, which includes Olympic- and Sprint-distance events, and features professional athletes, amateurs and first-time triathletes:


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