Leon Wolek could be a dark horse contestant on "The Apprentice."
He's the quintessential salesman. He's hyper-enthusiastic. And he doesn't seem to hold a grudge. Donald Trump may appreciate that -- or at least he ought to.
In the early 1980s, Wolek founded Leon's Triathlon, which began in his hometown of Hobart at the Izaak Walton League before moving to Hammond with the starting and finishing line at Wolf Lake Park. It attracted the top triathletes in the world, hosted the first military triathlon championships and was covered by ESPN.
"My wife isn't from around here and didn't know much about the area," said Dave Eenigenburg, owner of Fleet Feet Sports and Trek Bicycle Store in Schererville. "But whenever you mentioned Hammond, she would say 'That's where they hold Leon's Triathlon.'"
The last race was held in 1996. A brouhaha over hindered casino traffic led to its demise. But Wolek isn't pointing fingers.
"Put it this way, when you put something like this on you have to get all the municipalities and various departments willing to cooperate and work together," Wolek said. "If one or two are no longer supportive, it can bring the whole thing down."
Now it's back. On June 6, Leon's Triathlon will return to its old haunt in Hammond. Triathlete Magazine tabbed it as one of the 10 most anticipated races in 2010. According to Wolek, that's only part of the story.
"History is going to be made here," he said. "As far as I know, a race like this has never come back after being gone for so long. Once a race is gone, it's gone -- except for this one."
The triathlon will consist of a 0.9-mile swim in Wolf Lake, 24.8-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run. The start and finish line will be at Wolf Lake Park. Wolek hopes the course and quick-access transition area produce world-class times.
There's also going to be a race inside of the race.
"We're going to designate a one-mile section along the bike course that will set the fastest bicycle mile in a triathlon," Wolek said. "... We're going to be the first triathlon to time (the fastest bicycle mile)."
Though Wolek never gave up on bringing his namesake triathlon back to fruition, the inspiration for its rebirth didn't take root until two years ago.
"The race was such a staple in the Region, and people would always tell me of their memories of it," Wolek said. "That kind of pushed the vision of bringing it back. And the interest and feedback has pushed us even more."
One of the first people Wolek approached to assist him with his "vision" was Eenigenburg.
"He had me sold right from the start," said Eenigenburg, whose stores will host a day-long packet pick-up the Saturday before the race.
In each packet is a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of two Versa Climbers or a Trek bicycle.
"You can say a bicycle like this costs as much as a used car," Eenigenburg said of one of his state-of-the-art racing bikes, which triathlon spectators can test ride at a special booth at the event. "But as bicycles go, this is a brand new Lamborghini."
When: 8 a.m. June 6
Where: Wolf Lake Park, 121st Street and Calumet Avenue in Hammond.
Packet pick-up: From 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 5 at Fleet Feet Sports and Trek Bicycle Store, 635 E. U.S. 30, Schererville.
Entry fees: Solo -- $130 for USAT members and $140 for non-members; relay -- $250 for USAT members and $260 for non-members. USAT permits are required -- for information on obtaining them, visit http://www.usatriathlon.org/. To register for the event, visit http://www.leonstriathlon.com/.
Swimming (.9 mile) -- From Wolf Lake beach, out and back.
Biking (24.8 miles) -- From Wolf Lake Park onto Calumet Avenue, continue south on Sheffield Avenue to 139th Street, turn left to Holman Avenue, turn left again, merge back onto Sheffield to 131st Place, turn right and enter the eastbound ramp to Cline Avenue, travel east before making a U-turn at Riley Road, head west on Cline before making another U-turn in the median strip just past Calumet to travel east again on Cline to Riley and back west before exiting onto Calumet, go north to 129th Street and turn left to Sheffield (first lap of the bike course), travel south to 139th, turn left to Holman, left again to merge onto Sheffield to 131st, take eastbound ramp to Cline, complete the same eastbound, westbound, eastbound, westbound trek, exit onto Calumet, travel north to 121st Street, turn left back into the park.
Running (6.2 miles) -- From Wolf Lake Park exit south entrance and continue south on Sheffield Avenue to Gostlin Street, make U-turn and head north on Sheffield before entering south entrance to finish line located at the north end of the park adjacent to the transition area.