With numerous military organizations' participation and dedicated opening ceremonies, Fourth of July weekend is a fitting time for the event to air. According to Leon Wolek, founder of Leon's Triathlon, this year's event was made special by the enhanced focus on military veterans and military organizations.
"I have so much respect for our military and veterans and I never want to take for granted the sacrifices that were made so we may all enjoy our freedoms," said Wolek. "We wanted to put a focus on the military veterans involved in the race by highlighting them on the broadcast. We want to show the benefits of the military organizations involved and what they offer to returning veterans."
Leon's Triathlon included participation by several military organizations including Team Red, White & Blue, Folds of Honor, Infinite Hero Foundation and WIRED Athletes. Of the four organizations, Team RWB and WIRED Athletes had teams participate in the race.
"We are learning that exercise and group sports have excellent benefits in assisting our veterans as they transition back into society," stated Wolek.
In addition to the military organizations, Leon's Triathlon featured participation by many other individuals and groups that support veterans.
Warriors First Foundation, a nonprofit organization which raises funds to go toward active duty service members and retired veterans and their families, participated in this year's race by securing lodging for team members of WIRED Athletes at the Hampton Inn Munster. In addition to the lodging, Warriors First Foundation provided an escort from the hotel to the race, featuring close to 100 civilian and police motorcyclists.
"It (the motorcycle escort) was pretty awe-inspiring," said Ralph Kokot, founder and president of Warriors First Foundation. "Anytime you get 100 motorcycles escorting you somewhere, it leaves an impact."
Kokot said that Warriors First Foundation was unaware of Leon's Triathlon until this year, and looks forward to being active with the race again next year.
Throughout Wolf Lake Memorial Park, American flags lined the runners' course, providing a spectacular visual for participants, spectators and broadcast viewers. The flags were furnished by Larry "The Flag Man" Eckhardt, a volunteer who travels the Midwest setting up his many flags to honor fallen soldiers returning home.
During the opening ceremonies of Leon's Triathlon, members of the military organizations and spectators unfolded and held the Garrison Flag while Jim Cornelison, national anthem singer for the Chicago Blackhawk's, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." Opening ceremonies also featured a 21-gun salute.
Leon's Triathlon will be aired on Comcast SportsNet throughout the weekend, with additional broadcasts on Saturday, July 5, at 7:00 p.m.; Sunday, July 6, at 5:00 p.m.; Friday, July 11, at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 20, at 4:30 p.m.
For more information on Warriors First Foundation, visit www.warriorsfirstfoundation.org or contact Ralph Kokot at 219-879-5100 extension 201. To learn more about Leon's Triathlon, visit www.leonstriathlon.com.