karenstrail.org Honors a Michigan Legend
Karen McKeachie was a Title IX pioneer, a passionate Wolverine, and a nationally admired triathlete. She grew up just a stone’s throw away from Ann Arbor near Dexter, Michigan. Born in 1953, Karen’s playmates were the 9 boys that lived next door. Outnumbered, she had to like sports since that was the agenda on a daily basis.
In 1968, when two of those neighbor boys decided to run cross country at Dexter High School, Karen asked the coach if she could join too. There was no girls team then, so Karen would need to prove herself against the boys. She came in third in a practice race; but the coach left her participation to a vote of the team and Karen lost the vote 8-2 with only the two boys who beat her voting to let her run.
Karen’s dad, Bill McKeachie, took her to join the (now legendary) Michigammes, a local all-girls AAU track team coached by the one and only Kenneth (Red) Simmons. The Michigammes laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the women’s track and field program at the University of Michigan with Red Simmons as the inaugural coach. Karen blossomed under Red’s coaching, and as an undergrad at Michigan she lettered in the newly recognized women’s teams in basketball and volleyball in 1973-74.
Karen qualified for the first ever AIAW Cross Country Nationals in 1974 by virtue of her AAU results. Told she could not officially represent Michigan and wear a Michigan jersey, Karen had her mom to sew a blue block M on a yellow jersey and competed anyway, even bumming a ride to the meet in Iowa with the Michigan State team. Finishing top 15 in both 1974 and 1975, Karen was a two time All American before Michigan began an official women’s track and cross country program in 1978. Karen transferred to MSU in 1976 to run with a sanctioned program and after receiving her Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering there, she returned to Ann Arbor for a Master’s degree from Michigan. She was awarded her Letterjacket, along with the rest of the pre-1992 female Letterwinners, in the summer of 2016. Her love of the Maize and Blue never faded.
Karen discovered triathlons in 1982 and felt at home immediately. Her career as a triathlete is the stuff of legends. She won 7 world championships, 15 national championships and finished multiple Iron Man competitions, including one top 10 finish. A race organizer, a coach, and a participant, Karen and her husband, Lew Kidder, started a national magazine in the 1980s (Triathlon Today) promoting the sport. She was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2014.
Karen was riding her bike with two training partners on August 26, 2016 when she was struck and killed by a vehicle. Her loss is a hole that cannot be filled on the local or national scene. Lew and a large group of women athletes, many of whom benefitted from Karen’s coaching and mentorship, are committed of the completion of the local Border to Border (B2B) Trail as Karen’s legacy. As a Civil Engineer Karen was passionate about road safety for walkers, runners, bikers, and drivers alike. The B2B will be a 70-mile paved pathway that will serve as the spine for a non-motorized network throughout Washtenaw County. Please visit www.karenstrail.org
to support the effort to honor a true blue Michigan Wolverine.