Nearly 900 athletes came out to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to participate in the 9th Annual M22 Challenge. Nicholas Amato, 20, of Suttons Bay, MI was the first in the men’s group to cross the finish line at a time of 1:15:06, with Jamie Endicott, 24, of Traverse City, MI securing the top honor among the women with a time of 1:26:46.
“I started competing in the M22 Challenge when I was 13. This is my fifth time. I was shooting for top three this year but to win overall, I’m just at a loss for words,” said Nicholas Amato overall winner. “This is the most beautiful course in the world. The energy is what keeps bringing me back, it’s unreal.”
Athletes took off from the start line on M-109 in Glen Arbor in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, with the infamous “Dune Climb” on the Sleeping Bear Dunes, kicking off the start to the 22 mile race. From there, athletes jumped on their bikes for a 17 mile race up Inspiration Point and around Big and Little Glen Lake, and finish with a 2.5 mile paddle on kayaks or on stand up paddle boards in Little Glen Lake.
Jamie Endicott is no amateur when it comes to the race. “This is my fourth time competing. My third win. I did a lot of biking to train but nothing can prepare you for the dune climb.” When asked why she keeps coming back to compete year after year, she replied, “because I keep winning.”
The M22 Challenge attracts competitive athletes from all over the country. For some, it’s just about having fun and enjoying the event in such a beautiful location.
“I took six dunks, so I think I might hold the record for the most times being in the water today. It’s not a race, it’s just fun! Running up the dunes, biking around the lake, everyone is happy and cheering you on. It’s just a great event”, said Jason Millership of Portage, MI, who participated in the race for his second time.
FLOW (For Love of Water), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the common waters of the Great Lakes, was the presenting sponsor of the event this year.
“The energy and the passion of these athletes is absolutely as inspiring as the location of where the M22 Challenge takes place. With a mission to protect the Great Lakes, I can’t think of better champions than these athletes. Serving as the presenting sponsor was a great way to reinforce our mutual mission”, said Liz Kirkwood of FLOW.
Keegan Myers, Co-Owner of M22 says “every year, the energy is so high It brings together such a great group of people from all over for a fun morning of competition.”
Jerry Pearson, 58 of Empire, MI has competed every year in the M22 Challenge. For him he says, “It’s a right of passage into summer. Being a local, I come back every year to continue to defend my turf.”
Third time competitor, Jacqueline Killmer of Portage, MI, and overall female winner in age group 40-44, when asked why she comes back year after year said, “this is the most well run event I’ve ever completed in, the most fun event, most beautiful and the people from the athletes to the volunteers are just absolutely amazing.”
This year, M22 acknowledged the significance of the waters surrounding the Challenge course through the title sponsorship of Traverse City-based FLOW (For Love of Water).
The race allows for 900 participants, most of which registered the day prior at the M22 retail store in Glen Arbor. As a part of this partnership, M22 generously donated ten percent of all sales from the Glen Arbor store on Friday to FLOW to help protect the Great Lakes waters.
In addition to the athletes, many volunteers were present, and the Challenge would not have been possible without them. They provided everything from setting up the race course on Friday to efficiently removing the kayaks near the finish line.
Among the volunteers was Miss Michigan Earth United States, Allie Graziano, who assisted with awards and helped distribute information about FLOW. “I love volunteering with FLOW,” Allie said. “This organization advocates and educates everyone on some of the biggest issues facing our state.”
Founded in 2011, FLOW, a nonprofit organization, works to empower citizens and leaders and to protect the Great Lakes through use of public trust principles and an underpinning of strong science and technical analysis. Dating back to the Roman Empire, the public trust is a doctrine of common law holding that certain natural resources, including waters like the Great Lakes and their lakebeds, belong to the public and that government has an affirmative duty to protect them.
“This race is a perfect example of the Public Trust in action,” said FLOW’s Nayt Boyt. “The greatest stewards of our water are the citizens, which is why this is such a natural partnership. Right here, you can see so many people who deeply care about our water. We all must fiercely protect that to make sure we can continue to enjoy days like this.”
M22 emphasizes the importance of preserving the natural environment and conducts business in a sustainable way. This year’s M22 Challenge was a zero-waste event, and they were meticulous about not introducing invasive species into the local waters. Similar to FLOW, they recognize the value of the Great Lakes.