Janesville, WI Triathlon: Kitty Cole and the Rock, Roll "n" Run Triathlon

by Deborah Proctor

In the first decade of the 21st century, things were not looking good for Janesville, Wisconsin. Layoffs at local manufacturing plants were draining the city of its life. The Janesville YMCA felt that drain too, and the local triathlon they had supported for so long had to be discontinued.

It is said that, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." And that is what Kitty Cole, coach and race director of the YMCA tri did. With all the negative things happening in the community, Kitty felt it was essential to keep this fun and challenging event going. "Janesville has been hard hit economically and a lot people think the city is "gone," says Kitty, and she wanted"to show everyone that Janesville is a thriving community." 


She organized a few friends, rallied local businesses as sponsors, and the Rock, Roll "n" Run triathlon (RRnR) was ready to go on. But the Rock River had other ideas and record flood levels caused the event to be canceled. With the worst of the plant closings and layoffs occurring in 2009, it took Kitty and her friends two years to make their dream for the community come true.  

What makes the Rock, Roll "n" Run unique?

With the exception of the weekly shows staged by the Rock Aqua Jays, the Rock, Roll "n" Run  triathlon is the only sanctioned swim event in the Rock River in Janesville."We advertise a fast swim...even a PR (personal record) swim," stated Cole.  "For a first-timer, having the current as an aid can be a great comfort and assist. I am really proud of the fact that in 4 triathlons, every swimmer has finished the swim portion of the RRnR...100%  quite a record!"

The bike portion is rolling — challenging, but not overwhelming.

"The run is fabulous!" Cole added."Runners leave Traxler Park and run right thru the center of the Janesville Farmer's Market. The vendors love the action and are huge supporters!"  

"More than a few have taken my name in vain!," Kitty added as she described "the dreaded Holmes Hill" that leads to the historic Courthouse District and past a park and beautifully restored homes. Then it's all downhill from there. At the finish, along with awards for the top three in each age group, everyone receives a Finisher's Medal. To be sure that every racer knows how much their achievement means, Cole said, "We stop the award ceremony to line the finish line and welcome home our last finisher." 

As a racer herself, Cole goes out of her way to see that the day is not only rewarding but safe. The river is always a challenge."We never know what the Rock River is going to do!!  In 2012 the River was so low the swim started with athletes standing in the water and this year the River was so high and the current so strong, we had record swim times."  

For those nervous about swimming in a river current, organizers create a swim lane to keep swimmers out of eddies and from venturing too far toward the shore where they can get caught in a reverse current. Lauren Jensen, Wisconsin triathlon pro,  called the RRnR "...the safest I've ever seen."


"We have 5-6 of the Rock Aqua Jays' safety boats in the water, 1-2 jet skis, 4-5 kayakers and this year we had 13 lifeguards courtesy of the South Central Swim Team," said Cole.

The Rock, Roll "n" Run took one more step this year to make their race stand out from the rest. They participated in Focal Flame Photography's FocalShare™ program so that every racer would have digital photographs to go with their Finisher's Medal.  

"We wanted to...offer a unique and valuable race day memory (to our racers,)" Cole reasoned. "There are lots of races to choose from...We want our racers to feel good about the whole event...having a photo or two to share cements that goodwill!"

To participate as an athlete, volunteer, or sponsor in the 2014 Rock, Roll "n" Run, held the first Saturday in July each year, visit or their  Facebook page Janesville Rock Roll 'n' Run.

Tell us on the Focal Flame Photography Facebook page: What is your favorite memory of the Janesville Rock, Roll 'N Run Triathlon?