Originally founded in 1987 in New York City by triathlete Alvin Hartley, Tri-Masters has quickly become one of the most successful triathlon clubs in the country. Hartley put together Tri-Masters after becoming tired of being the only person of color in the countless competitions he entered. Hartley brought his message national and international, and gained the respect and membership of such professional triathletes as Susan Latshaw, Melissa Mantak, Jeff Devlin, Brad Kearns and Brett Rose.
While competing in Chicago, triathlete Bernard Lyles met Alvin Hartley and his team. Experiencing the same challenges within the sport, Lyles was intrigued by the Tri-Masters concept, and founded the Chicago Chapter of Tri-Masters in 1990.
Taking it a step further, Lyles desired to take the sport of triathlon to Chicago’s African-American and Latino-American youth. In 1992, with the support of then Chicago State University President Dr. Dolores Cross (also an avid marathon runner) and an initial start-up grant from the Chicago Community Trust, Lyles founded the Tri-Masters Youth Sports Initiative Program at Chicago State University. This beginning, with 30 youth athletes, was the foundation of the growth of today’s programs.
The organization currently consists of a youth triathlon-training program, two adult triathlon-training programs, a marathon-training program, and a cadre of race volunteers who assist in running and triathlon events throughout the Chicago area. In addition, there are partnerships with a community running club, a senior swim program, an infant swim program, and a teen swim team.
This program has affiliations with one of the largest cohorts of African-American athletes in the Midwest, yet includes athletes of all races in leadership and volunteer roles. As the life’s work of its founder, Bernard Lyles, the program was an opportunity to create a safe haven for children who are economically disadvantaged, have witnessed community violence, and may live in environments replete with alcohol and illicit drugs. The program teaches youth that their accomplishments are limited only by their dreams and perseverance. The program has allowed a 5-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion and other world-class athletes to host swim workshops and life skill workshops for participants, while also exposing these youth to community business professionals who make fitness a major part of their lives. The greatest reason for this program’s uniqueness is that it has shown more than 1,500 inner-city youth that the world is full of opportunities if you persevere and prepare. The program’s motto is “Tri and you can master anything in life.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the eyes of the program’s youth.