Trailblazer Toni St. Pierre Inspires Award, Other Triathletes
In 2008, the inaugural year of the YWCA Women’s Triathlon, at age 54, Toni competed in her first outdoor triathlon. In that first attempt, she placed 23rd out of approximately 500 competitors, and was second in her age group. Paul Johnson, the YWCA Women’s Triathlon’s founding Race Director, remembers Toni fondly. “I first met Toni as a keenly observant triathlon student at a YWCA workshop,” he remembers. “A couple years later, I watched her dominate her age group at the Women’s Tri. What an inspiration! Though what remains most clearly to me are her bright eyes and smile.”
In 2009 and 2010, Toni won her age group at the Women’s Tri and competed at an elite level in many more local and national triathlons. She qualified for and competed in Age Group Nationals in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, sidelined by a running injury, Toni teamed up with her daughter, Jessica, to win the relay competition.
In the summer of 2012, Toni was diagnosed with cancer. That summer a triathlon mentee, Heather Kaiser, brought Toni to the Women’s Tri to volunteer. Toni did not have the strength to compete. Dierson reported that, as they left the race that day, Toni stated she was sad that this was probably going to be her last time at her favorite tri.
Toni’s athletic prowess and impact extends much further back than 2000. Toni was in middle and high school pre-Title IX, so the opportunity to compete on a girls’ teams was very limited. Hopkins Eisenhower High School, where Toni attended, did not have a girls’ cross-country or cross-country ski team. Toni wanted to compete with the boys, but was not allowed by the Minnesota State High School League. Toni and her family convinced the ACLU to take up their case against the state. The case went to trial in the spring of 1972, and the ruling was in Toni’s favor. The ruling gained national attention, helped make a national case for greater equity in athletic opportunities for girls, and came a few months ahead of the Title IX federal legislation. The following year, Toni joined the boys’ cross-country, track and cross-country ski teams. That year, she was state champion in the mile and the half-mile, setting a national half-mile record of 2:18.3. More than 30 years later, in 2006, Hopkins High inducted her into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. (Eisenhower closed in the 1980s.)
On February 6, 2013, Toni was set to accept a Special Merit Award at the 27th Annual Minnesota Girls and Women in Sports Day. The Special Merit Award recognizes individuals who exemplify the highest levels of commitment to breaking barriers for girls and women in sport. Toni passed away on February 2, and her family accepted the award on her behalf.
Truly a trailblazer in women’s athletics, Toni inspired generations of female athletes, along with the YWCA of Minneapolis community. We are very proud to honor her inspiring legacy through the creation of the Toni St. Pierre Award for Most Improved Athlete at the Annual YWCA Women’s Triathlon.
The Seventh Annual YWCA of Minneapolis Women’s Triathlon is scheduled for Sunday, August 17. Get information updates by joining our Facebook page!