Catching up with Bill Fulton at The Worlds Oldest Triathlon Series
by Suzy Degazon
The year is 1982 and a young Bill Fulton the owner of "The Complete Runner" store had just been asked if he knew any one that could put on a 10km road race at Bonelli park. Although he had no prior experience he said that he could do it! While he was trying to plot out a 10km course he realized that there was no natural out and back course in Bonelli Park for such an event, yet as he looked out over the Dam trying to envision the road race Bill remembers "I just got a flash that Bonelli Park would be a great place for a triathlon, it's got unbelievable ambience. I had put on foot races but the triathlon was the sport of the 80s and I wanted to be part of it."
Which would have been a great idea yet Bill had never seen a triathlon let alone produced one. Yet the next day he was telling every- one that he was going to put on a triathlon event at Bonelli Park! It was not long before a nationally recognized Triathlete by the name of Mark Montgomery was walking into Bills shop asking what he was thinking! Viola History was beginning!
Bill took Mark to Bonelli thinking he would say it would not work, quite the opposite Mark saw what Bill envisioned and on April 17th 1983 they produced the first of 3 triathlons at Bonelli Park. It was in their eyes the perfect venue for the ultimate triathlon course. In the middle of LA they had a Lake which was easily accessible on top of which was calm and no waves, a bike course which was rolling hills and no left turns to navigate against traffic and the run which was a mixture of cross county and beautiful scenery certainly not boring; it was as if they had been given the perfect triathlon course on a platter!
Bill remembers well that first triathlon in 1983, he recalls standing at the Lake waiting for the athletes who were all standing in the transition area near their bikes he went up to the area and shouted out that he had hired a Sherriff with strict instructions to shoot any -one stealing anything from transition and the race began!
Bills attention to detail earned him the nickname of Mr. Bullhorn as on race day he would be out there with his Bull horn sweating the details which attracted repeat customers. Back in the 80s the distance was a 1 km swim, 40km bike and 8km run it was made up of 3 races and in order to be the Los Angeles Champion the athlete had to finish all 3 races and have the lowest point total. In the first few years the event was held there was a lot of triathletes that would show up to race but when Mark and Bill upped the antes and offered a prize purse of $12,000 then a lot of triathletes showed up at a chance of the green stuff!! Scott Molina & Joy Hansen won it in 1986 each winning $1500 a piece! Athletes from eight different countries & around the USA participated in 86; Allison Roe of New Zealand placed second in one of the races and was a former world record marathon holder!
Bill and Mark wanted the athletes to come out and try to improve their swim bike and run time over the 3 events!
There has been many elite and famous athletes to grace the starting line of the LA Bonelli series, Mark Montgomery went on to win it a few times, while in 1988 Kenny Sousa who was the top biathlete of the year began his career helping Mark Montgomery put on races and before learning how to bike competed as a runner on a triathlon relay team. In 1989 Nancy Vallence made her breakout in triathlon by beating Colleen Cannons course record at Bonelli park by over 3 minutes! Headlines in tri news were Scott Molina versus Mark Montgomery and Allison Roe versus Joanne Ernst! Or Tom Gallagher and Janet Greenleaf (the then swim coach of Mission Viejo Nadadores) win series championship! Other notable triathletes include Joy Hanson, Jacqueline Shaw, Michael Durkin, Ken Glah etc. Perhaps one of the most famous names would be Emilio De Soto 11, who came 2nd in 83 and went on to win the overall series 3 to 4 times competing maybe over 75 times at Bonelli, his fondest memories were times spent with all the Fulton family! Who still great Emilio and his father as family! More recently athletes such as Michelle Jones, Jonas Colting, Nicole de Boom, Julia Swail to name but a few!
It impacted Bills family life very favorably, his wife Joan with children Caroline, Anne and Chip were all involved from the beginning with the organization and even today he has his grand- children involved and the same volunteers from 29 years ago!
Things have changed a lot in the triathlon world since 1983, his daughter Anne recalls having to cut and paste all the individual names to a piece of card board for the results in 1985 they had spent a long time correcting the positions and went to put up the results and the Santa Ana winds came through and took all the names like confetti and sprinkled them all over the grass!!
In 1987 Bill was presented with a scroll from the County of Los Angeles as in only 5 years the Los Angeles Triathlon series which was launched at Frank G Bonelli regional park in 1983 was enjoyed by athletes across the nation had grown so quickly it had been televised to Millions of Americans as part of Strohs American Race Challenge and races across America program which brought nationwide attention to Bonelli Park! Added to that Triathlon magazine & Triathlon news two very well respected sporting news publications reported that the Bonelli series was one of the best triathlons around and called it one of the top eight great triathlon races in the nation!
It was at an event in San Diego in the late 80s when Bill heard a Triathlete voice frustration that he could not finish a triathlon in less than 2 hours that Bill began the 1:59:59 club; he wanted to honor the athletes that could meet this challenge! Soon the club was becoming so large due to the triathletes getting stronger and faster each year he even added a 1:49:59 club and yes a 1:39:59 club!!
For the past 29 years Bill Fulton has been a pioneer of the race directing world, he also founded the Catalina Island Triathlon and held that event for 7 years, his children still remember sailing over to Catalina with athletes such as Mike Pigg and having MOET Champagne sponsor the event, Bill also produced triathlons at Big Bear and several foot races. He was definitely ahead of his time for innovation. His biggest reason was to support his growing family. As well as the Los Angeles Triathlon series they also started the Tri Express series which his wife Joan was responsible for naming. This would be a shorter triathlon for athletes wanting a sprint course. At the end of the year in the Fall they would have the B.O.D (Bonelli Olympic Distance tri) or the express called Steamboat. The reason they called it Steamboat was because Robert Fulton discovered the Steamboat and when Bill was a child the kids thought he had invented the Steamboat!
It is now 2011, I personally have been at the April event as a relay team; We won the mixed relays and my runner was my mini pincher who was fully registered and had a blast! The May event I entered as an age grouper and the race venue has moved back to the North shore of Bonelli were it originally started in 1983, the course is still grass roots, non -stressful, friendly vibe. As for a non- athlete the course is spectator friendly! It has a super relaxed setting were spectators can mingle with the athletes afterwards and watch the run and bike course and still be close to the finish line.
There are new faces on the circuit; kids like Zane Grenoble 10 years old who won his age group in April and then Dillon Nobbs who won overall the tri express division at 15 years old! Dillon is actually coached by Dave Ruby a long time competitor and past express champion at Bonelli himself… These are the future of the sport it keeps growing… Junior divisions, USAT rankings who knows baby Emilio De Soto may follow in his fathers and grand- fathers footsteps one day at Bonelli!
In 2012 the event will mark its 30th Anniversary and continue its streak as the World's Oldest Triathlon series. The events are held in April, May and June. The Championship races start out in April with a 500 meter swim, 23.3km bike and 5km run, In May the race consists of 1km swim, 26.4km bike and an 8km run. It tops out in June with a 1.5km swim a 40km bike and 10km run. Meanwhile the tri Express series is a 300km swim, 13.3km bike and 5 km run for all 3 races. Once an athlete has won the Championship series they are exempt from any future entry fees!! I really love the volunteers who usually are the Newport Beach Sea Scouts Ship 90, La Verne Boy Scouts Troop 419 & Diamond Bar High School!
The back drop of the San Gabriel Mountains and the Bonelli Park just make it an ideal destination for a triathlete with family to visit! So while they are racing the family can relax and there is plenty of places to stay locally and eat.
The new race director is Carolyn Wolk daughter of Bill, Carolyn is equally as passionate about giving the athletes a memorable experience which is why they have a saying that reads Tri Events is "Open to take criticism from our athletes and partners in order to "get it right" minus the corporate red tape." They also moved the race back to the North Shore of Bonelli were it all began 29 years ago!
It goes with- out saying that Triathlon has evolved over the years they still try to keep the grass root feeling of the triathlon but unlike the late 80s, areo bars, wet suits USAT are now the norm, disc wheels and carbon bikes!…rules rules and more rules follow the sport of triathlon! To be nostalgic in the 80s triathlon was not an elitist sport, there were no tri shops and tri clubs to join and the races were just about having fun and keeping fit!! If you had a bike a swim suit and running shoes you were set!! The Tri Events and Bill Fulton have tried to keep the old fashioned feel for the sport here in Bonelli park, so if you want to be part of History the series will be 30 years old in 2012!
This year Joan Fulton passed away but her memory remains through this beautiful series of racing.
Suzy Degazon (Ultrawoman)
More About Tri Events...
Tri Events is in its 30th year of promoting mulit-sports events in the Southern California area. While our experience includes promoting and/ or managing 10K's, Marathons, and "The Down Hill Mile", the mainstay of our organization has been in the promotion and management of swim, bike, run triathlons. The beautiful surroundings of Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California, play host to some of the most recognized triathlons in the sport, including The Los Angeles Triathlon Championship Series (LA Tri-Series), LA Tri-Express, Bonelli Olympic Distance (The BOD) and the Steamboat Triathlon. We pride ourselves as a "grass roots" organization and make it our goal to provide our customers, the athletes and sponsors, with a world class experience. We are honored to have many of the most recognized elite athletes in the sport call "Bonelli" and the "LA Tri-Series" a regular stop in the annual Tri circuit.