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Competing for Connor

Kari Harrison and her friends have a lot of new things to talk about these days. Sitting around waiting for an interview to start last week they talked about new bicycles and getting used to clip-in pedals. They weighed the merits of energy gels versus power-boosting jelly beans and debated the best clothes to wear as they looked forward to the now completed YWCA women's triathlon at Baker Park in Maple Plain.

All five of the women are active. Most have competed in 10-kilometer races or half-marathons. But this triathlon thing is new to them. The running part they've got down. But getting comfortable in the water or on a bike seat has taken some work and a lot of training. Nobody seems to mind, though. It's all for a good cause.

When they took to the water for the start of Sunday's race, the five women, including two Hastings women, were part of something called the NF Endurance Team. They raised money for and awareness of neurofibromitosis, a neurological disease that can lead to problems ranging from benign tumors to bone deformation.

Harrison's son, Connor, was diagnosed with NF five years ago. Harrison and her husband started running races with the NF Endurance Team last year, but this year they decided to branch out. Harrison recruited some of her friends and they started training.

"Most of us were already doing running races or 10 Ks," said Hilary Moorlach, one of the Farmington residents on the team. "When Kari knew she wanted to start doing it for a cause, it was easy."

Well, maybe not easy. For most of the team members preparing for the triathlon meant learning -- or at least getting reacquainted with -- at least one new discipline. Hastings resident Donna Kramer, who competed with daughter Veronica Browning, has run half-marathons and participated in bike tours, but she put a lot of work into swim training.

There was new equipment to buy and there were new shoes to get used to. Kelly Doughtery, another team member from Farmington, was a runner in high school but hadn't done much swimming since about fifth grade. Moorlach said she was "flopping all over the place" when she first hit the pool.

The team members also had to find time to get in shape.

"All of us have younger children at home, so this is a commitment," Dougherty said.

Nobody's complaining, though. And all say knowing they're working for a cause helps them get up for 5 a.m. workouts or train into the night.

It also helps that they'll all ultimately be competing against each other. Nobody seems to care too much about winning the event. But nobody wants to be the last team member across the finish line either.

The sprint-distance triathlon involves 500 yards of swimming, a 15-mile bike ride and a five-kilometer run.

Now that they've gotten used to the work, most team members say they'll stick with triathlons. They like the variety. And they especially like knowing the work they're putting in will help others.

The team races wearing bright yellow shirts with the NF Endurance Team logo. Raising money is part of the deal -- as of last Friday they'd raised about $1,800 -- but they also want to raise awareness. NF occurs once in 3,000 births, but few people know much about it.


Connor Harrison was diagnosed with NF when he was 1 year old, after his parents started noticing birth mark-like spots on his skin. In the five years since, he has developed a benign tumor that has wrapped around his spine and NF-related scoliosis. It's not clear how the disease will develop from here. There are a number of possible symptoms, from bone deformities to learning disabilities to blindness and deafness, and there's no way to predict which will show up in Connor's case. Doctors can treat those symptoms as they arrive, but there is no known cure for the disease.

Chad Richardson

Chad Richardson is the news director for RiverTown Multimedia. He was the publisher of four RiverTown publications until 2016, when he was named news director. He was previously general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He worked at the Hastings Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.

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