(Kailua-Kona, Hawaii) Forget Boulder or San Diego. Ottawa has become the new mecca for triathlons. In fact, the Nation’s Capital - with its harsh, long winters and truncated summers – has more entrants than any other city in the world in the upcoming World Ironman Championships in Hawaii on Saturday, October 21.
“We have a real great network of people that train together. We push each other in training and on those days when the mind does not want to, we know there are others out there expecting you to train. It provides motivation to get out the door, no matter what the weather, “says Barry Dmitruk, 50, an RCMP officer, who is one of 17 Ottawa-area athletes competing next Saturday. This will be Dmitruk’s fourth Hawaii Ironman. He wears his love for the race everywhere, including his car. His licence plate reads: “KonaExprs.”
Adds Dev Paul, 40, who has been racing triathlons for over two decades. “We have a great supportive community, lots of great races and training events and wonderful venues like the Gatineau Park in which to train.”
But it certainly isn’t the sort of climate that would attract someone training for an Ironman, is it?
By any measure, the Ironman is considered the world’s toughest single day sporting event. What started out as a craze that was once considered novelty bereft of reason just 20 years ago is now one of the fastest growing sport in the world. Some 22 Ironman races are held around the globe. They can fill up anywhere from six to 24 hours. That’s in spite of the $400+ entry fee, as well as the 18 to 24 hours/week of training and personal commitment it takes to get ready for one.
And despite the gruelling conditions that the Big Island of Hawaii dishes out – including a 3.8 km swim in the Pacific Ocean, a 180k bike along the Queen K highway, notorious for its wind gusts of up to 100k/hr and a 42k marathon run through the sizzling lava fields where the humidity can hover around 90 percent - more than 50,000 athletes have tried to get here.
The Hawaii World Championships are triathlon’s Holy Grail. Its Mount Everest. It is what every serious triathlete one day aspires to.
30,000 will line streets along Alii Drive to watch the finish on Saturday. Some 100 million more will watch the race unfold on television. The top professionals are vying for the $580,000 prize purse, while the amateurs are racing to be among the world’s best in their age group.
What makes this race so unique is that the amateurs race side by side with the top pros. Imagine being able to suit up with the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup.
Jean Lacroix, a software consultant to the government is finally going to Hawaii after trying for three years. “I’ve always been fascinated by the Ironman triathlon. It was always in the back of my mind as something I’d like to attempt one day in the distant future. When I lost my father two years ago, it made me realize that the "distant future" isn't all that far off.”
Heather Ireland, a ticket agent for Air Canada, and her husband, Len, President of Gorlan Mechanical Ltd. Len wanted to do an Ironman before his 50th birthday. They both qualified at Ironman Lake Placid.
Ann Marie Foley, a manager for the City of Ottawa, won her spot for Hawaii at Ironman Canada. She debated accepting the spot and still questions her sanity. “Actually I text messaged my boss before I signed up for Kona and he wrote back “RU Nuts.”
On Saturday, she may be wondering if she is.
For now, all that matters after the earthquake this past weekend is that the race course is safe and the volunteers ready to put on the championships. Like the mail delivery, one hopes that an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale just shook things up a little, and that the race will be run on schedule. If our athletes have the chance to perform, they can move heaven and earth just to finish, and hear those special words crossing the finish line: “Congratulations, you are an Ironman!”
This article also appeared in the Ottawa Sun.