by Dean Harper
First Wildflower winner – 1983
Wildflower will forever be my favorite race. Thirty three years ago was my first. I am hoping my last won’t be for another twenty or more years from now. I have ridden up Nasty Grade a dozen times or so, each time seemingly harder than the last. The Olympic course is mile for mile the toughest Olympic course around. There are no flats on the Olympic course, except in the swim. Memories of the race results fade over time. However, the weekend memories endure. They will last a lifetime.
I have competed at Wildflower with my daughter Shelley, and with my son Greg several times. Shelley was the 2nd collegiate woman three years ago and Greg was the 2nd collegiate male last year. Both wanted to snatch an overall victory for their Dad. I was incredibly proud of both and would have been whether they finished 1st or 151st. I am very thankful they have chosen a lifestyle that includes aerobic fitness and multi-sport. I am delighted to share the Wildflower tradition with my family.
In 2006 the collegiate champion – and still Olympic distance record holder – was Steve Sexton. He finished his PhD in Economics from UC Berkeley shortly thereafter. That same year Greg was 14 and won his age group. I barely knew Steve at the time, but my wife, Mary Ann, snapped a picture of them together. Fast forward to Christmas 2015, Shelley, Greg, Steve, and Wildflower age group record holder and good friend, Jason Campbell and I were all in Maui riding around the island together. Shelley had just graduated from Duke Nursing School, Steve is an Economics Professor at Duke and the two have been dating for over a year. Jason is a good friend who enjoys taking my soft age group records and turning them into something that will last. Greg was training for the collegiate season. One of our common connections – Wildflower. We all love the race.
The past couple of years I have been fortunate to share some of the Wildflower announcing duties with triathlon icon and friend Julie Moss. Julie is a former Wildflower champ.
And she has befriended my son Greg and his girlfriend Kristin, and is going to start them on their Pacific Crest Trail hike at the Mexican border a couple of days after this year’s Wildflower. Yet another Wildflower connection.
Then there is race director, Terry Davis. He and I have mused over the history of Wildflower and the incredible journey from its nascent 1983 beginning to a peak of over 7,000 participants. The Woodstock of triathlon.
I also blame Terry for getting me back into this sport after many years of raising a family and building a law practice. In late March of 2002, I received a phone call from Terry at work. I hadn’t spoken with Terry for years. “Hey Dean, we have our 20th year anniversary this year and we would love to have you compete as a two time former winner.” In a weak moment, I said “Ok.” I hadn’t competed in a triathlon for over a decade and bought a bike, trained hard for two months and managed to squeak in under five hours. However, Terry gave me number one and lined me up next to all of the top pros. I felt incredibly out of place as Chris Leigh, Chris McCormack and other top pros came up and introduced themselves.
That race back in 2002 was exciting and memorable. Largely because of Terry’s invitation, over the next nine years I’d compete in about seventy triathlons all over the world. Participating at Wildflower, absorbing the energy, and renewing friendships gave me the boost to rekindle my more competitive side for the next nine years.
In recent years I have been fortunate enough to coach the Cal Berkeley Triathlon Team. Ironically, Wildflower has become a year-end Cal Berkeley Tri tradition. Now another Wildflower connection and tradition.
So for me, Wildflower is about family, it’s about friends and it’s about memories. The great memories I have of Wildflower will last me a lifetime.