Somersault events bring thousands of people to the starting line every year with a series that caters to kids and seniors, rookies and veterans. Behind it all is Team McKinty: Terry and Christine, two passionate pioneers who have pushed the Ottawa triathlon scene to new limits. By Theresa Wallace.
There’s a long-standing joke in the Ottawa triathlon community that if you don’t see any suitable events in the Somersault calendar, ask Terry McKinty and he’ll create a race just for you. This is only part exaggeration, since Somersault, one of the oldest multi-sport-event companies in Canada, offers a greater choice of distances and races at each of its events than almost any other race organizer in the country.
It all started in 1988, when Terry and Christine first met at the world junior track and field championships in Sudbury. Terry was executive director; Christine was working as a volunteer while finishing her university degree. The two sports enthusiasts moved to Ottawa soon after the world championships, working together on a number of sporting projects before launching Somersault in 1998, organizing three triathlons for just a few hundred participants.
Each of the co-owners brought key skills to the table: Terry had over 25 years of experience organizing national and international races, while Christine was a natural details person. Terry was the visionary thinker and Christine took care of the administration. (Though no longer married, the two have remained business partners.) Over the years, Somersault expanded to offer more races, more course lengths, and a longer season for the Ottawa athletic community. It helped that Terry had founded local timing company Sportstats, which offered key logistical support. (They sold Sportstats in 1996 to allow Terry to concentrate on event planning.)
Somersault now offers nine triathlons that attracted close to 7,000 participants last season (12,000 if you include their canoe and run series). Their biggest event is The Canadian, held on the September long weekend, which offers a choice of 14 different triathlon races (plus a number of runs and canoe/kayak races). Christine says much of their growth has been due to more women participating in triathlons, as well as an overall perception of the triathlon as a fun, accessible sport. Indeed, the casual triathlete is at the heart of Somersault’s business: only 10 percent of entrants are race regulars, while the other 90 percent sign up for only one or, at most, two Somersault races a year.
Greg Kealey, coach to some of Canada’s top junior triathletes, describes the McKintys as generous, knowledgeable, and always open to new ideas. “When I proposed a junior champion challenge race series, they implemented the idea instantly. Terry and Christine are not just supporters of multi-sport in eastern Ontario, they are the reason sports like triathlon exist and thrive in our region.”
And they wouldn’t trade their jobs for anything. “I love being out on the course during a race, watching those in the middle and at the back of the pack, because I know the obstacles many of them had to overcome to get there,” says Terry. “Our greatest pleasure is helping people, especially those facing health challenges, get active and participate in athletic events. If we can open doors for people, this makes us very happy.”