Ironman triathletes love coming to our town and they’ll continue to have that opportunity until 2021 and perhaps beyond.
Organizers of the Ironman 70.3 Muskoka event — a half-Ironman that has athletes swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles and then running 13.1 miles through Huntsville and Lake of Bays — were at the February 28 General Committee meeting to ask for the Town’s support for three years beyond its current agreement, which ends this year, with the option to extend it for another three years to 2024.
Ironman events have been held in Muskoka for the past 11 years, noted co-organizer Nick Stoehr of Trisport Events, with the venue moving to downtown Huntsville from Deerhurst last year.
“Muskoka is by far my favourite event of the year. I love it, we work very hard on it, we love coming here, very inviting, great time of year, great community, great atmosphere. Our athletes love it,” said Stoehr. “(The downtown Huntsville location) was very well received from our athletes. Our athlete scores were great. The satisfaction for the host community was 94 per cent which was ahead of the global average for all of Ironman.” Huntsville is one of just five Canadian communities that hosts Ironman events — Mont-Tremblant, Whistler, Calgary, and Victoria are the others — and is the location of one of 152 Ironman-branded races world wide.
A record number of athletes—1553—participated in Ironman 70.3 Muskoka last year and more than 1200 have already registered for the July 8, 2018 race.
“Rain or shine we will bring 1500 athletes plus spectators (to Huntsville),” said Stoehr. A staff report presented at the meeting noted that athletes stay in the area for an average of 3.34 days and that the event attracts participants from around the world. The 2017 winner was from France.
Stoehr, along with co-organizer Dave Mucyk, requested that Ironman 70.3 Muskoka remain at the Canada Summit Centre (CSC) in July for every year of the new agreement, and that the Town contribute $25,000 each year toward the event’s $100,000 licensing fee as it has in the past. The Town would also provide use of required municipal facilities like the CSC as an in-kind donation, with Trisport Events to be resposible for all other requirements for the event.
“We’d like to keep a consistent date and consistent course,” said Stoehr. Although committee members wondered if September might not be a better time for the event, Stoehr said that the July timing fits into the Ironman global schedule and that the CSC rinks, which are used for athletes and volunteers, are not available at that time because the ice has already gone in.
Stoehr also noted that, in addition to the economic impact generated by the athletes, Trisport Events gives back to the community with a $10,000 donation to community groups in exchange for volunteers in areas like water stations and registration, and it spends about $40,000 at local businesses per year to produce the event. Trisport Events also gives local triathlon club TriMuskoka the opportunity to raise funds and volunteer at the race.
But one member of the gallery issued a warning to the organizers, saying that some local volunteers have been grumbling about the event’s long shifts with little to no support and situations, like directing traffic, that are sometimes risky, and that he’s heard from many who don’t intend to volunteer beyond this year.
“Everyone needs to be made aware of the commitment on the part of these volunteers,” he said. “You need to put something into the care of those volunteers on course… Many of us will come back if we hear good things this year and it will be larger and stronger than ever. If this doesn’t happen, eventually it’s going to fail because you succeed on the backs of our volunteers.”
Stoehr acknowledged that they couldn’t put on the event without volunteers and that there is some turn over. “We rely on probably close to 800 volunteers through the course of the weekend,” he said. “Totally agree — we love our volunteers, we want to take care of our volunteers. We love the feedback…and we’ll work harder. We don’t want anyone to have a negative impact from the event — volunteer, athlete, local resident, anyone.”
Staff recommended that the Town continue to host the event on July 7, 2019, July 12, 2020 and July, 11 2021 with the option to extend that agreement for an additional three years until 2024. Committee agreed and the resolution will go before Council at its March meeting for ratification.
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