Kelly James-Littmann had tears in her eyes, but a certainty in her heart that her late husband would be smiling at the sight of athletes straining, grimacing and sweating in his honor.
More than 50 of them participated in the inaugural Jeff Littmann Memorial Fund SEAL Challenge, a devilish combination of suffering that helped raise $3,000 for a USA Cycling scholarship in Littmann’s name. Regarded as the ambassador of cycling in the area, the 56-year-old coach and bike shop owner was struck and killed by a car while cycling in Nashotah on Oct. 1.
James-Littmann stayed mostly in the background during the challenge at the St. John's Military Academy in Delafield. Her husband’s out-sized personality, however, remained in forefront, months after his death.
“He just loves to watch people achieve their personal goals, and he was always there to encourage them to do their best,” James-Littmann said. “I can just see him here, feel him.
“He had a passion for every sport. I think he had a passion for the competitors.”
Angie Krueger, in purple, strains to complete one of the 62 sit ups she performed
as part of the Memorial SEAL Challenge. Photo by Tom Held.
Krueger, 32, was one of Littmann's neighbors in Dousman and one of the hundreds of athletes who admired him. She shared the unanimous sentiment among the competitors on Saturday: "He was a wonderful man and a great inspiration. That's why I'm here today, to celebrate his life."
Dwight Sanvold leads Peter Reinhard in the run leg of the elite men's competition.
Photo by Tom Held.
Sanvold, 49, of Oconomowoc produced the best score of the day.
He swam 500 yards in 7 minutes, 44 seconds; completed 93 push ups in two minutes, performed 76 sit ups and 22 pull ups. He finished the 1 1/2-mile run in 8 minutes, 38 seconds.
Competitors swam first, then went directly to the push, sit-up, pull-up elements. Twenty-three of them, including 13-year-old Phelan Purnell, met the SEAL standards: Swim 500 yards (breast stroke or side stroke only) in 12:30, perform at least 42 push ups, 50 sit-ups and six pull-ups and finish the run in 11 minutes.
Jessica Diel digs deep for one of the 17 pull ups she completed, while Anita Krier encourages.
Photo by Tom Held
Diel, 30, put up the best numbers of the women competitors, including the impressive 17 overhand pull-ups. She added 85 push-ups, 68 sit-ups, and a run time of 10:59. Her swim time of 7:29 was the second-fastest overall.
Other impressive performances included the 111 sit-ups that Beth Schluter knocked out. At 66, Schluter was the best in the field in that element.
On the pull-up bar, Casey Palmisano set the mark of the day with 35. Jeffrey Baker finished off a day's-best 125 push-ups.
Cameron Knuth had the fastest time in the pool, 6 minutes, 53 seconds; and Chris Wickert was the fastest on the track, 7 minutes, 27 seconds.
Robin Gohsman, the founder of Body Basix nutrition products, created the memorial challenge to honor Littmann, who helped coach him to the finish line of an Ironman Triathlon.
After he guided the competition and tabulated the results, Gohsman talked about year two, doubling or maybe tripling the turn out. His enthusiasm flowed from the competitors and memories of Littmann.
"I think you could sense the energy, passion and compassion of the athletes and volunteers to honor Jeff’s life and contributions," he said. "The feedback on the event has been overwhelmingly positive."
Frederick Ellsworth, 60, of Whitefish Bay, goes for 56 push-ups in the Memorial SEAL Challenge.
Photo by Tom Held