June 28th, 2011

Meet the Tri-Masters

“Tri, and you can master anything in life.” This is the motto of Tri-Masters Sports Initiative Programs. For the past 20 years the Chicago chapter of Tri-Masters, founded by Bernard Lyles, has provided a safe haven for minority children living in at-risk communities around the city. Lyles and his team have worked to create a safe and productive environment where children can focus their efforts on endurance sports and training for triathlons, therefore reducing the likelihood of the child’s involvement in gang or drug-related activity. The organization has taught more than 1,500 of the city’s youth athletes the idea that, if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.

Tri-Masters, a not-for-profit organization, was initially founded in 1987 in New York by triathlete Alvin Hartley, who was frustrated by the lack of other African Americans at events; the organization’s website states that the number of African-Americans at race events is less than 1%. This statistic motivated Hartley to form an organization that will draw more minorities to endurance sports events.

After meeting Hartley and his team at an event in Chicago, Bernard Lyles was inspired to start up a Chicago chapter. Lyles shared Hartley’s frustrations about the lack of minorities at races, which inspired his involvement in bringing the organization to Chicago. To Bernard, training with other people is a rewarding aspect of sports. “When you run together, you get to know a lot about somebody,” Bernard explained. Though Tri-Masters had an adult training program for triathlons and marathons, Bernard focused on creating the Youth Sports Initiative.

“I wanted to be someone the kids could count on,” Bernard said while explaining his reasons for starting the youth program. Lyles feels that triathlons can teach a person a lot about life. By making triathlons accessible to children who don’t otherwise have the resources to participate, Lyles hoped to create a program that would better the lives of minority children in the city of Chicago. “All you need is the desire, a facility, and a couple volunteers,” Lyles stated.

Finding a facility and funding to start the program was hard for Bernard and his team. After going to several potential facilities, Tri-Masters finally found a home at Chicago State University. Dr. Delores Cross, the president of the university at the time, was a member of Bernard’s running club and, after hearing about Tri-Masters, she provided the space they needed to begin. With a facility and a small grant from Chicago Community Trust, the Tri-Masters Youth Sports Initiative was born in 1992.

With their 20 year anniversary approaching, Bernard has had the chance to witness many of his athletes achieve success in their lives. He recently went to a triathlon to cheer on a former Tri-Masters youth who had participated in the program for nine years. “I was so proud,” Bernard beamed. The organization hopes to continue growing with the next chapter of Tri-Masters opening in Madison, WI. “It’s been 20 years of struggles and good times,” Bernard explained.

Tri-Masters is a bright light in the lives of many of the city’s youths. With the support of the community, Bernard Lyles hopes to continue expanding and providing children with valuable life experiences.

We here at RAM want you share this inspiring organization’s message with the people in your life. We encourage you to come cheer on the Tri-Masters youth athletes at RAM Racing’s South Shore Multisport Festival on July 30th (www.southshoretri.com). Come out and show your support for a truly inspirational cause. With the help of fellow runners and community members, Tri-Masters can continue to change the lives of children in need. Visit the Tri-Masters website at www.tri-masters.org to see what you can do to help out!