Skip and Diane Obermeyer married in the 60’s and raised six children in southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sports were always a big part of their family life, and bicycling in particular. Diane learned that while she wasn’t fast, she could pedal “forever” and she rode 225 miles in a 24-Hour endurance event at Belle Isle, near Detroit. In 1982, with the help of seven friends, Diane set a USCF Veteran Women’s solo 24-Hour record of 361 miles that stood for many years.
1983 was the first year of the National 24-Hour Challenge. Diane and Skip started and organized the event for 25 years, growing it from 18 riders to nearly 500 each year. The Rapid Wheelmen Bicycle Club hosted the Challenge until 2004, when the Challenge was incorporated as a Michigan non-profit corporation. In 2007, Diane and Skip retired, passing the torch to Lew Persenaire. Lew unfortunately died in the Spring of 2009 and the current organizers are Pete & Kathy Steve.
In 1984, the event moved from Wabasis Lake Park to the Spartan Stores complex in Byron Center. That year it attracted 160 riders from throughout the Midwest. In 1985, the N24HC moved around the block to Douglas Walker Park and 282 riders competed. Since 1985, the event has experienced growth in the number of participants as well as the number of states represented. In 1999, due to road construction and population growth, the event moved to Kent City. In 2000, more road construction necessitated another move and the present location of Middleville in Barry County was chosen. Middleville offers low traffic counts and all the facilities of a large school site – increased parking area, showers, a cafeteria and gymnasium.
The N24HC has become the largest event of its kind in the world. Each year, riders from over 20 states participate. Since its inception, cyclists have entered from 47 of the 50 states, as well as Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. In 2007, N24HC total mileage passed the 2 million mark.
Middleville’s population swells when the N24HC comes to town. Bicyclists and their crews begin arriving on Friday afternoon to get a good camping spot and pick up their number packets. Several sponsors of the event donate door prizes, which are on display. Bike shops bring products for last-minute needs and mechanics to help with technical support. Photo albums from previous events are out for display, and the walls are papered with lists of registered riders sorted every which way.
The Middleville Rotary Club puts on a dinner Friday night during registration. The Middleville UMC puts on a Saturday morning pancake breakfast and offers concessions and ice on Saturday. The Friday dinner is a great opportunity to socialize before the event. For riders who return year after year, it is a reunion. There are always new faces — first timers looking for advice on what to expect. It’s also a chance for Middleville to get to know the people who undertake this remarkable physical and mental challenge.