Miracle in Ripon

Our friend Mike Nofzinger believed “Miracle”, the story of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, was the greatest sports movie ever made.

Maybe he was right, but only because no one ever made a film about the 2003 Ripon Triathlon.

They will, my friends. Someday, they will.

That year, an unlikely trio of Mike, me and our friend Kory made up a tenacious but woefully under-trained, long-course, co-ed relay team.

I recall driving along the bike route with them the night before the big event.

“Woah,” someone (may have been me) said. “This seems like a lot of hills.”

It was.

The next morning started with the swim portion of the race and, for that, we had our 6-foot-6, wingspan-of-an-albatross ace, Kory. The swimmers took off and we all cheered near the exchange area. Poor Kory, though, had not trained in a lake and certainly not among other swimmers who were kicking waves into his face. He swallowed so much water, he threw up. But, he kept rolling and eventually staggered out of the water.

“Tougher than I thought!” he said as we sent our intrepid biker, Mike, on his way and then moseyed over to the bike-to-run exchange area.

In the distance we heard sirens and joked among ourselves that they might have been coming for Mike. Turns out, they were.  Mike had cramped up with a mile to go on his ride and rolled into a ditch. He waved off the ambulance someone had summoned, climbed back on his bike and completed the route.

Then, I took off on my run, which seemed like it was going just fine until I realized the course officials had already packed up their stuff and headed in. A few of my competitors followed me up a steep hill, an unfortunate choice for them because I got us all lost. Eventually, we turned around, retraced our steps and found our way back to the route.

I crossed a lonely finish line and we all began the long trudge back to the car, when we heard someone call out “Team Nofzinger.” Turns out we had won first place in the co-ed division.

That’s right, baby. First place. The. Best.

We wore our medals all over town that night as we celebrated Mike’s son Quinn’s 21st birthday and our title. Nobody cared (because we didn’t tell them) that we were actually the only co-ed team competing that year. 

We were the champions, my friends and that night will make me smile for the rest of my days.

We had to say good-bye to our friend Mike this week. As we did, I thought about that race and about a thousand other great memories we shared.

Mike decided that our daughter Katherine should sing the National Anthem at Lambeau Field and then he made it happen. Twice.

He and his wife Stephanie hosted us at their house so often it felt like home. We were all members of a Gourmet Club that lasted for more than 20 years and we spent many weekend nights and New Year’s Eves with Mike and Steph.

We traveled together, played games, enjoyed concerts (mostly Mike’s favorite band Chicago), attended all kinds of athletic events from hockey, baseball and football games to bed races, and teamed up for a few more athletic challenges.

It’s really hard to believe he’s gone.

Life is a lot like that Ripon Triathlon we won (ha!) all those years ago. You plan, struggle,  pick yourself up, cheer each other on, laugh, sweat, make mistakes, redirect, stagger, catch your breath, reach your stride and, when you win, you hold that medal high because life might be painfully finite, but it’s also filled with joy and good memories that last forever.

We are the champions. This is us following our 2003 triumph in Ripon. The Mark referenced in the picture is a friend of ours who was supposed to compete on a team with Tim and Keith (pictured on the left). Mark’s plane was late, which meant Keith and Tim competed as a duo, They still beat us in the overall standings, a pretty humbling situation. But, as I mentioned, the three of us on the right — me, Mike and Kory — were the only co-ed team in the competition so we won medals and we unapologetically paraded them all over town that night. We also lost Keith last year and it’s just shocking to me how fragile life can be and how infinitely precious these moments and friendships remain.
Mike’s wife Steph put together this collage for us after Katherine sang the national anthem at Lambeau Field in 2001. Mike, who was a Packer statistician for 25 years, arranged the whole thing. I honestly thought he was joking when he first suggested that Katherine should sing at Packer games, but he made it happen and gave us another memory we’ll treasure forever.
Mike and Steph were members of a gourmet club I’ve written about before. The theme of this one was the Garden of Eden but we traveled through many countries and various themes in our two decades of tight friendship and loosely defined gourmet. Many thanks to our friend Laura for coming up with the idea for this club that provided us all many, many hours of easy entertainment.
We had a lot of fun!
I like this picture of Mike and our friend Jorge because they both have such wide grins in it.
We had fun on the other side of the country as well, when we visited our mutual friends, the aptly named Partee family and Vince’s sister Carol, husband John and their three kids. We all stayed in the same beach house in Oregon and, we liked it so much…
We did it again a few years later.
I’m not going to say I’m competitive and neither was Mike 😉 but I feel he would want me to point out that this team right here won the flag football game we played on the beach that day. We’re No. 1!
From lovely beach to frozen lake. This is us enjoying the famous Kelly Lake Bed Races with Mike, Steph (behind the camera), their daughter Crysta and her husband Adam.
We had a lot of good times and belly laughs.
Mike and Dave had these sweatshirts made up because Dave played football at Chico State University shortly before they disbanded the football program, which gave all three guys plenty of material for running gags. Those sweatshirts, with Dave’s playing number on the front, got plenty of wear over the years.

4 thoughts on “Miracle in Ripon

  1. Thanks for this, Laura. We are so saddened by Mike’s passing and will miss him greatly at Desert Princess resort where we met.

  2. Thanks for the memories on the infamous Green Lake Triathalon competition, which by the way only came about because on an alcohol-induced bet at one of those wonderful Gourmet Club dinners…and I was never so happy to have a flight delayed as I certainly would have added to the “memories”…So sad to hear of Mike and yes, life is so very fragile and fleeting….

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