He passed on his passion to her and her sister, Robyn Winkler, 20 years ago. Each spring the family gathered to plan out its summer weekends with races, marking down dates and destinations.
"Of course my father was a driving force, loving triathlon. It's what we preach every day: physical activity, healthy lifestyle and watching your diet," Kirsten said. "... Having this race come to a small place like Huntingdon and McKenzie to bring awareness to this sport and this lifestyle here in our backyard, it's just incredible. It's such an opportunity for the community."
Their connection so strong, Kirsten wasn't sure if she could race without her father. Her first attempt earlier this spring was painful, emotional but also cathartic.
"It's just something I love to do. When I really think about it, I think it would make him so sad if I gave up something that brought us so much joy and with which we shared so many memories together," she said. "Yes it's a tough year, but a lot of my racing is for him because I know that's exactly what he would want me to be doing."
The McKenzie Medical Center Dixie Triathlon, presented by the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center, will hold its inaugural race on Sept. 15 in and around the community of Huntingdon in scenic Carroll County. The West Tennessee race features both Sprint and Olympic distances and will begin along the banks of the Thousand Acre Lake before winding its way into Huntingdon, around the Carroll County Courthouse, and returning on rural roads to the banks of the lake.
Registration is still open for the Dixie Triathlon. For more information or to join the race, click HERE.
Through Dr. Winkler's efforts, the McKenzie Medical Center partnered as a title sponsor with the Dixie Triathlon to help ensure its success shortly before his death. The Dixie Triathlon, set for Sept. 15 on the roads around neighboring Huntingdon and in the cool waters of the Carroll County Thousand Acre Lake, will carry on his memory.
"We have a lot of employees and providers here that are involved in triathlons and it just seemed like a perfect marriage. We're proud to sponsor a race like this," said Dr. Bryan Merrick, doctor of internal medicine at the McKenzie Medical Center.
Dr. Winkler wasn't the only employee hooked by triathlons. His daughter, Kirsten Sass, is a certified physician's assistant at the McKenzie Medical Center as well as a world-class triathlete with numerous age-group national and world titles.
Routes subject to change
Carroll County's inaugural triathlon couldn't pass without Dr. Volker Winkler's involvement. His legacy can be found in the title sponsorship to this September's debut race: The McKenzie Medical Center Dixie Triathlon presented by the Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center.
A founding partner of the McKenzie Medical Center in McKenzie, Tenn., Dr. Winkler was killed in a cycling accident in February. He was an avid triathlete with more than 100 races to his name spanning decades. Seeing a triathlon in his own backyard remained a dream though.
The swim will take place in the scenic Cumberland River, maximizing down stream and paths of least resistance. This section of the river has very little current so swim times will be fast.
The bike is set up to be fast. Sprint participants will ride out Hwy 12 to the Davidson County line and back, with Olympic participants making 2 loops.
The run takes you out to the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail where you'll be surrounded by the sounds of nature and color of wildflowers. The Bicentennial Trail is flat and shaded, making it an ideal course for the run.