For most people, their good time at the 130th Neshoba County Fair will get under way next Friday when the Fair officially opens.

But it’s not really that way for one group. Since 1980, the Philadelphia Sertoma Club has sponsored the Heart o’ Dixie triathlon. And that labor of love delays their Fair relaxation by about a day and a half.

“To me, the Fair starts on Saturday at noon,” said B.J. Morrow, who has served as race director since 2014. “It’s a little different for club members. The Fair is in their blood but we don’t mind giving up some Fair time for a good cause.”

The Heart O’ Dixie, which will be run Saturday, July 27, is the longest running triathlon in the United States. It is a point-to-point race that starts in Louisville and ends on the Neshoba County Fair Fairgrounds.

“We have 33 members,” Morrow said. “This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the 100s of volunteers, law enforcement officials and emergency workers we have helping us each year. We try to make contact throughout the year. But on race day, they show up and everybody knows what to do. They have been doing it for so many years.”

The start time is 6:30 a.m. The triathlon begins with the .5 mile swim at Lake Tiak-O'Khata. That’s followed by the 27.5 mile bike race which progresses through the rolling red clay hills down Highway 25 to Philadelphia. It concludes with a seven-mile run to the Neshoba County Fairgrounds. The awards ceremony usually starts around 11 a.m.

Volunteers man aide stations along the race route, giving fluids and encouragement. Some wet the runners down with hoses.

During the bike race, a local motorcycle club escorts the riders and tries to keep traffic away from them.

Meanwhile, another rider, Bradford Dennis of Bossier City, La., comes up every year. He has a good sized motorcycle and he rides the race officials up and down the route.

“I don’t know if he has any Neshoba County connections,” Morrow said. “But he has been coming for years and helping with the race. He really does an important job and he doesn’t get paid. No one does. This is just something he likes to do every year.”

After the bike race, the runners need their running shoes and club members have a system to help with that.

“All of the competitors have two bags,” Morrow said. “They put their running shoes in in one bag with a towel, maybe. The second bag is for after the race. They might want to put on more comfortable shoes.

“We have two trailers. When the swim starts, one club member drives his trailer with the running shoes to the area where they leave their bikes. The other goes to the Fairgrounds. That way, their things will be ready for them when they come in.”

But every once in a while, a bag gets misplaced or lost and the competitor finds themselves in a pickle.

“A few years ago, that happened,” Morrow said. “A guy couldn’t find his running shoes. So a club member gave him his shoes. He went to the car and put on another pair. About 30 minutes, it happened again. Someone couldn’t find his shoes. So the member gave him his shoes. He gave up two pairs of shoes within 30 minutes. But that’s what this is all about.”

The Heart o’ Dixie is the Sertoma Club’s only fundraiser. All money raised goes back to children in the community.”