“Choosing to attend the University of Missouri is one of the best decisions I have ever made,” says Menke, who, as a northeast Pennsylvania youngster, dreamed of writing for Sports Illustrated. “Ultimately, I decided to go to the ‘dark side,’ if you will, and pursue a career in media and public relations.”
Menke, BJ ’95, has worked in marketing and communications for USA Hockey, as well as within the National Hockey League and NCAA Division I Athletics.
As USA Triathlon’s CMO, Menke has inked sponsorship agreements with national brands including MetLife, BP, Gatorade and Avis. He also oversees branding and a slew of digital and print communications for the organization. It’s an easy sport to promote, thanks to two-time defending world champion Gwen Jorgensen, and top-ranked stars like Katie Zaferes and Sarah True, who together comprise the No. 1-ranked women’s team heading into the 2016 Olympics, broadcast Aug. 20 on NBC. The men’s competition is Aug. 18.
“I'm flying all the way down to Brazil to sit in a TV truck and watch the race on an 8-inch-by-8-inch TV screen,” says Menke, joking about one of his many duties, which includes freelancing for NBC. “Working in sports has its benefits, and I love it, but it’s not always as glamorous as people think.”
Just as the Olympics were getting underway, Menke was in Omaha, Nebraska, for one of USA Triathlon’s National Championships, where more than 4,000 triathletes competed in two events. The growing sport started in the 1970s, and USA Triathlon now boasts nearly 500,000 members and sanctions more than 4,300 events across the country. Courses vary in distance, but the Olympic triathlon includes a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride and 10 km run.
“You don’t necessarily have to be an ‘Ironman’ to be a triathlete,” says Menke. “We see a lot of motivational stories within our sport — inspiring people who overcome addictions, disease or other obstacles in their lives. It becomes more than a hobby or an endeavor. It’s a lifestyle.”
The 44-year-old Menke dived in himself for the first time following the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I thought, ‘I sell the sport every day; I need to practice what I preach,’ ” Menke says. “I bought a road bike, started taking swimming lessons at 6 a.m. three days a week and did my first triathlon in 2013. Now I do one or two every year.”