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Joseph Francis O’Brien


Joseph Francis O’Brien, beloved dad, Grandpa JoJo, brother, coach, and friend sadly and unexpectedly died on June 29, 2022, at the age of 66. He is survived by his wife, Marti; sons, Peter (Jenna), Collin; grandsons, Henry, and Jack; brothers, Tim (Karen), and Andy (Lori); along with many very special nieces, nephews, and friends. He was predeceased by his mother, Patricia O’Brien; and father, Joseph O’Brien.

Joe grew up in Grand Rapids, attended GR Catholic Central High School, GR Community College, and graduated from the University of Tennessee. His passion was diving, and he was self-driven to perfect that next dive. He set numerous records and earned several All-American awards. At UT, his team won the NCAA National Championship for Swimming and Diving in 1978. He was a Vol to his core and the fight song “Rocky Top” brought tears to his eyes.

Joe channeled his discipline and drive as an entrepreneur, vowing never ever to work for anyone else. He co-founded Genesis Sports, an EGR running store and worked diligently to build his race timing business, Classic Race Management. Through Classic Race, Joe enthusiastically supported thousands of runners each year and founded the Reeds Lake Triathlon and the annual New Year’s Resolution Run.

For over 30 years Joe coached diving at East Grand Rapids High School and all across the region. Throughout his coaching career he received many accolades and produced many champions, however his proudest achievement was helping athletes – at all levels – realize their potential in the pool and in their lives.

Joe will always be remembered for his fun-loving spirit, fierce competitiveness, and his generosity towards family, friends, and athletes alike.

Though well-hidden to the outside world, Joe also sadly struggled internally. In lieu of flowers please consider donating to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan,, or the East Grand Rapids School Foundation,

The O’Brien family would like to share heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of love and support in the wake of Joe’s death. We will be having a private memorial but please know how much your caring has meant to us during this tough time. 

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32 Responses

  1. Love from your Grand Rapids Marathon family. We’ll miss you, Brother.

  2. Oh Joe, I loved seeing you at races, working with you, and hearing all of your funny stories from your career. “Ponytail guy,” I will miss you so much.

  3. Joe, we will miss seeing you at races. You were always quick to provide men with toe warmers when I was ill-prepared at groundhog

  4. Joe, you will be missed. It was always great to see your smiling face race morning and great working with you at registration for the Grand Rapids Marathon. Peace.

  5. Joe was great, always friendly and most helpful! He will be so missed!

  6. The whole Run Thru the Rapids crew says good bye Joe, Rest In Peace my friend. Personally I will miss my 24/7 answer man for all things running in our community and for you off beat words on life.❤️????

  7. I am so saddened by this news. Joe gave me some experiences I would never have had otherwise. I will miss his calm demeanor on race day and his jokes about ‘custom finish times’ at the end of a hard race.

    My sincere condolences to Marti and the family.

  8. Joeyo- you will be sadly missed and remembered with love by all❤️ Rest In Peace-

  9. On more than one occasion Joe helped get our race committee reorganized on race morning. And he was always gracious about it. He just pitched in and helped us get the race off smoothly. Run Thru The Rapids Co-Chair, Kent Mudie

  10. As one of your divers (EGR grad ‘88), you could not be more loved. You are the ONLY reason I dived for the SEC Conference and coached at Grand Haven High School. When it mattered most, you held each of us East “kamikazes” in the “palm of your hand” when taking what seemed to us to be the ultimate risk. WDFA, coach. Spin ‘em & Spear ‘em up there. Peace. Love.

  11. Joe – We will miss you so! I met you back in the late 70s when you convinced me to dive at Cascade country club to earn a few points for the team! That love of Diving carried over as you were a phenomenal mentor and coach for my daughter Gracie during her high school years. Your sense of humor quick wit and love for helping others is something I’ll never forget! Prayers for your entire family during this difficult time.

  12. I’ll miss trying to grab a shot of you and having you either flip me off or run away. I will surely miss you at the finish line. Godspeed brother! Sending love to your boys and your Classic Race Management team from all of us as Team Stellafly.

  13. So sad! Such great memories of you at Cascade Country Club and the many trips you took us on. Some of the best days of my life. The Sterkenburg’s

  14. Dear Joe, I hope you are reading this thread- you are loved and will be missed. Swim in the fast lane up there. ~lisa rose

  15. I worked for Joe at Classic Race while I was a runner at Aquinas. I’ll never forget the kindness he showed me. Their family invited me into their home, let me use their laundry and fed me when I was a lost college kid. Working in the office at Classic was the highlight of my summer. He will be so missed.

  16. I’m so sorry to hear this. I have many fond memories of Joe wandering around at various races. He will be sorely missed.

  17. Joe,
    I always enjoyed your smart ass remarks about me and how I tried to run each race …
    Thank You for the lasting memories and most of all you being there for not just myself but
    everyone who participated and giving us the inspriration…..
    God Bless You My Man….Rest in Peace…..

  18. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I did not know Joe personally but ran in several races in GR, Groundhog being my favorite. I appreciated the flexibility of the timers and I’m sure that was a result of Joe wanting to accommodate the rest of us to the greatest extent possible.

    Thank you and Godspeed.

  19. Joe,

    Your quick wit and sense of humor has always helped me get through those stressful race prep and mornings. You will be greatly missed, my friend.

    Jen Roudebush and the Park2Park Race Team


  21. So so so so many memories growing up with you as a coach at Cascade Country Club and then seeing you at EGR swim meets when my daughter swam in high school. You are an icon in this neck of the woods and in all things swimming/diving and running! You will be greatly missed in our community ❤️.

  22. I’m going to miss working with Joe when I cover the many races he timed. I was posting sample images from the Meijer LPGA Classic 5k that included a shot of Joe at his computer right when I got the news of his passing. It hit me kind of hard.

  23. Joe you will be missed greatly by the so many in the running community along with all of the many people that you have come in contact with!
    I’ll miss your humor especially at the Resolution Run.

  24. I am so saddened by this. Joe helped walk me through timing a small race 15 years ago. He was SO helpful even though it was a very small event. This is who he was, every person mattered. As someone who struggles with mental health I understand the struggle is real. You will be missed Joe!

  25. You are a person one can never forget and we never will! You will be missed by Annie and I. My heart goes out to your family. Rest in peace friend.

  26. My sincere and deep sympathy to Joe’s family. When he would call the Parks & Rec office he always put a smile on my face with his made up names, like Mr. Ishkabibble.

  27. For many, many years Joe would time the Wheel Run Together 5k – our fundraiser for Alternatives in Motion – for free. “Can I get you anything Joe, coffee or a donut?” “Yes, a half a can of Miller Lite.” So for years, I would bring him one half can of Miller Lite, no more, no less, in a coffee to-go cup to our race morning at GVSU. I loved that smile it would bring to his face. I will miss him at the 5:30 AM in the dark set up for the GR Marathon. I’m thinking about his family, Classic Race partners, and all who will miss him. RIP my friend

  28. Classic Race Managment was always a big part of my life in Grand Rapids. I always appreciated Joe’s atttention to detail and support for all runners, no matter our skill level.

  29. With great sympathy to Marti, family, and the entire Classic Race Team, I am so sorry for your loss.
    Joe’s kindness and generosity were amazing. Once during “day of sign up”at the Resolution Run a volunteer told me my entry was “taken care of”- I was a little confused and said I still wanted to pay, and the volunteer said “Joe said you would say that”- I smiled and said “thank you” and accepted the free entry. Since 2007 I have sought out races timed by Joe and team because I know they are always exceptional events. He will be greatly missed.

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