CALGARY – Bow Valley triathletes welcomed back Canada’s first in-person Ironman race since the pandemic began last year and are hoping the resurgence is a sign of things returning to normal.
Competing at Ironman 70.3 Calgary on Sunday (Aug. 1), a buzz was definitely in the smoky air to get back at it as more than 1,500 people signed up to swim, bike and run after at least 16 months.
“You could tell the whole vibe everyone was just stoked and excited to be back racing each other,” said Banff’s Olivia Driedger, who finished 19th in women’s 30-34 age category.
“Overall, I’m happy with my time [and] with my day given the state of not racing in a year, and given the state of [lack of] pool use for the majority of the year, but it was a hard day.”
For Driedger, like many endurance athletes, 2019 marks the last time triathlon racing was available due to COVID-19 shutting down many sports and sports companies.
The endurance sports industry, in particular, suffered heavily with many companies feeling financial strains during the extremely hard times.
“Everyone’s experienced some sort of loss during the pandemic,” said Banff’s Amber Wanless, who just missed a podium finish, taking fourth in the women’s 45-49 category. “For endurance athletes, the inability to race has been huge, so to get back to it has been very exciting.”
The course featuring swimming (1.9 kilometres), biking (90 km), and running (21 km) portions gave an opportunity for triathletes Wanless and Driedger to shake off the rust before challenging the nation's best at the Ironman Canada race in September in Penticton, British Columbia.
"It was a great race to, I guess you could say, get my feet wet again," said Driedger.
Although the competition was a milestone for being Canada's first in-person Ironman competition since the pandemic started, it was overshadowed by tragedy.
A 47-year-old Ontario man died during the race after his body was discovered by volunteers in Harmony Lake in Rocky View County, where the swimming portion took place, just before 8 a.m.
An investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of death.
“We are incredibly saddened to confirm the death of a race participant at the IRONMAN 70.3 Calgary triathlon,” organizers wrote in a Facebook post. “During the swim portion of Sunday’s race, swim safety personnel recognized the athlete in distress requiring immediate medical attention. We share our greatest sympathies with the family and friends of the athlete and will continue to offer them our support as they go through this very difficult time. We thank the swim safety personnel and first responders who worked quickly to provide the athlete with medical support.”
Wanless commented on the horrible outcome.
"It was awful," she said. "It was heartbreaking to talk to some of the volunteers who were there when the ambulance showed up and took that person away – it was hard to hear about it. I know it happens in these races and it was the first time it ever happened to a race I was in. It’s heartbreaking to hear something like that and my heart goes out to the family of the man who died."
Other local results at Ironman 70.3 Calgary include a pair of category podiums by Jill Kirker (women’s 65-69) and Christopher Lough (men’s 65-69), both finishing second, respectively. Stu Austin (men’s 65-69) was 14th.
Brad Dixon was 21st in the men’s 50-54; Michelle Katchur Roberts finished fifth in the women’s 35-39; and Adam Demaniuk was 32nd in the men’s 35-39.
Ana Maria Garcia finished 26th in the women’s 25-29; Devon Hawkins was 34th in the men’s 25-29; Plinio Guzman was 57th in the men’s 25-29; and Jeremy Neilson took 22nd in the men’s 18-24.
Locals Stan Ostashevskiy and Matthias Gasser also competed, but opted-out of the swimming portion.