FAIRMONT - While most groups of high school friends tend to drift apart years after graduation, a group of women from Fairmont High School's class of 1993 still get together at least once a month, despite moving away.
Last weekend they returned to their hometown to compete in Fairmont's triathlon in memory of one of their mothers.
"There's about 13 of us, and seven of us participated," said Jennifer (Herfendal) Keogh. "In the past, there's always been four of us who would compete in the Liz Gomez memorial triathlon, but this year, seven of us did, and a few more came along and acted as cheerleaders."
A group of women from Fairmont High School’s Class of 1993 competed together in the Fairmont Triathlon this year.
Back row, from left: Jennie (Dick) Swenson, Jennie (Herfendal) Keogh, Carrie (Chicos) Neerland, Amy (Eriksen) Martell, Xochill (Gomez) Thalhuber, Hollie (Lewis) Beckord, Jenni Steinberg.
Front row, from left: Melissa (Draper) Weineke, Michelle (Smith) Mair, Laura (Sanner) Hinz.
Gomez, who passed away from cancer in 1999, had helped create one of the first triathlons in the state in Fairmont during the 1980s, according to her daughter Xochill (Gomez) Thalhuber.
"It's been a pretty emotional rollercoaster," Thalhuber said. "My mom started the triathlon in the '80s, but when she moved, it ended. She put so many hours into it, I don't think anyone else was able to carry it on. But it started again about five years ago. ... I think she's smiling down on that."
Since then, Thalhuber or her husband have made the effort to participate in the triathlon each year.
"We've either done sprints or the relay, though there was one year I was pregnant and couldn't compete," she said.
The additional participants competed this year in memory of Pat Steinberg, mother of Jenni Steinberg, who lost her battle to ovarian cancer earlier this year.
"Pat volunteered to help every year, and she was the pillar of health," Keogh recalled. "When I was at her funeral, I started thinking about it, about how she would do it if she was still here. God gave me two arms, two legs and I'm healthy, so I decided that I would do it for her."
Melissa (Draper) Weineke ran in honor of Pat Steinberg, but also in memory of one of her parents.
"Melissa's father also passed away," Thalhuber said. "Our small group of friends has really been impacted by having parents that have passed away. It shows that we're all together for bigger reasons than the triathlon."
Hollie (Lewis) Beckord, one of the regular participants, took third place in their age division.
"She left me in the dust," Keogh said with a laugh, "but I completed it. It was fun and a great experience. Hopefully, we can get more of us to do it next year for the 20th reunion."
Keogh considers the experience with her friends a unique one since such a large group of women has managed to stay in contact and stay friends.
"We're all in the Cities now," she said. "We still get together about once a month for dinner. There are a few of us that are living right in Minneapolis, while the rest of us are mainly in the western suburbs. ... But I think the whole thing is really a tribute to our friendship and womanhood, and getting our start in Fairmont. It's an amazing connection we've had - some of us since kindergarten - and it's from this beautiful city of lakes. It was wonderful to grow up there, and we've gotten through a lot over the years. I couldn't ask for a better group of friends."