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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Emde organizes, promotes triathlons for women

Marla Emde is the director of the Valley Girl Triathlon in Liberty Lake and the West Plains WunderWoman Triathlon in Medical Lake. (Dan Pelle)
Marla Emde is the director of the Valley Girl Triathlon in Liberty Lake and the West Plains WunderWoman Triathlon in Medical Lake. (Dan Pelle)
By Steve Christilaw

Marla Emde knows there’s no escaping it. She’s going to cry Sunday morning. And, maybe, a little Sunday evening and a few times after that. It just goes with the territory.

But she knows, too, that she won’t shed sad tears.

Emde, along with husband Michael Emde, owns Emde Sports, which organizes and promotes endurance sports events throughout the area. More than a decade ago, she and Robin DeRuwe decided to bring a women’s-only sprint triathlon to Spokane – something similar to a race sponsored by Danskin in Seattle.

And thus was born the Valley Girl Triathlon, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Sunday when 500 women pour into Liberty Lake for a 1/3-mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run.

“I always break down and cry the morning of the Valley Girl,” she said. “It’s become such an emotional event and I have so much appreciation for our great volunteers who help make it such a special day.

“And there are always so many great stories at the finish lines. People come over and thank us for putting on something that means so much to them. There are always tears at the finish line.

“What always touches me is that people will write us letters or send us emails after the race to tell us what it means to them to have done it. What they overcame to be able to do it. Those always make me cry, too.”

The intimacy of Valley Girl was always a big part of what made it special right from the start. The Liberty Lake venue always had a cap on the number of participants and from the beginning, sold out quickly, leading Emde to start a second race, the West Plains WunderWoman Triathlon in Medical Lake.

“We thought there would be enough interest in something like this here,” she said. “But we were surprised at how fast it topped out and how it’s grown into an event for the whole family. We have multiple generations competing and regularly have three generations competing side-by-side. I think we’ve even had four generations.

“One of the things that I find so great about it is how supportive the husbands and the fathers are and how emotional it can be for them, too. I have a lot of them coming over and telling me just how proud they are of their wife or their daughter for training and finishing the race.”

Endurance sports always have fascinated Marla Emde, 55, first as a competitor and then as a trainer and promoter.

“I was in the first class of my Seattle-area high school to be under Title IX,” she said. “That was an eye-opening place and time to be a part of. Girls just one year ahead of me didn’t have it – didn’t have the opportunity to do the things my class suddenly could. When you’re right there and can see the change happen, it stays with you.

“I think that is a big part of why I enjoy promoting events – creating opportunity for people to compete in events they might not otherwise be able to compete in.”

Running and cycling were early passions. While competing in Belgium on a U.S. cycling team, she met her husband, who was riding for an Austrian team.

They settled in Spokane and began training cyclists and endurance athletes. Michael Emde concentrates on training athletes while Marla Emde has developed events.

“(Michael) has been incredibly supportive over the last 20 years with all of these ‘crazy’ ideas that I always have on my entrepreneurial plate,” she said. “… We are both very driven to give the very best – he’s used to riding 508 miles nonstop on his bicycle. We both have our crazy sides.”

Marla Emde went to work for the Spokane Regional Sports Council, where she began promoting hundreds of events. Eventually she went out on her own, promoting her own events, but still helps out with the council from time to time.

For cyclists, they promote Northwest Cyclocross Series in the fall and next weekend’s Jederman Gran Fondo (Jederman is a German word that mean’s “Everyone” and Gran Fondo is an Italian phrase that means “Great Ride”). For runners it’s the Coeur d’Alene Marathon. In addition to the two women’s triathlons they also promote the Strides for Strong Bones run/walk in Medical Lake and a series of kids bike races for Group Health.

“I get asked to help out with other events up and down the coast and I enjoy doing that, too,” she said. “It’s good to see how other events are run. It always starts with putting together a strong group of dedicated volunteers and goes from there.”

Training individuals still is an important part of her day, she said.

“Putting on events is a lot of fun and I enjoy it because it touches so many people,” she said. “When I train someone, I get to know them and understand what makes them tick. … I love to find what motivates them and watch them go out and succeed and meet and surpass their goals.”

But now, she says, she’s beginning to move into uncharted territories.

“Our daughter just graduated from high school and she’s heading down to Washington State University in the fall,” she said. “I guess that kind of makes us empty nesters now.”

Slowing down, she insists, is not an option.

“I’m looking at some new adventures,” she laughs. “It’s going to be fun.”

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