Waters: Kelowna’s Ironman bid dependent on volunteers

City will require an ongoing, committed volunteer base of several thousand to make the Ironman competition happen here.

Kelowna’s mayor went the distance last week to try and land the Ironman Canada event for his city.

But Walter Gray, and the rest of city bureaucrats who put together the bid, will have to wait at least another week to find out if they won the race.

Gray skipped the mayor’s usual early September gig at the Union Of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria and instead headed for the warmer climes of Tampa, Florida to personally lobby for the race.

And who could blame him? Given the choice of sunny Florida to lobby for a race that attracts some of the fittest folks in the world, or the closed confines of a convention hall in Victoria with a few hundred blow-hard local politicians eager to talk about scintillating subjects like development cost charges, sewer grants and, for a little excitement this year, the decriminalization of pot, which one would you choose?

And, it appears the mayor’s effort paid off.

Kelowna is one of three communities on the shortlist to succeed Penticton as host Ironman Canada, along with Whistler and Hunstville, Ont.

But in this instance, Kelowna needs to be careful what it wishes for.

Ironman is a big event – a big event that takes a lot of organization. There is a culture around Ironman that no other event this city has, or does, host can match. And that culture has been built up over time in Penticton.

And it requires an army of volunteers to make it happen.

Kelowna, as has been demonstrated time and time again, is not always the volunteer capital of Canada. Sure, some events do well but others have a hard job gathering the required number of people needed to make it tick and often event organizers find  themselves pleading with the public at the least minute to come out and lend a hand.

This year, the venerable Apple Triathlon —which traditionally goes the weekend before the Ironman—fell about 100 volunteers short of the 1,300 it needed. The city has said it want the Apple to continue regardless of whether Ironman comes to town.

But Ironman requires 3,000 volunteers for the all-day event. And we’re not talking about a one-off here. Kelowna wants to host to the annual swim-bike-run marathon for years to come. So the huge volunteer search would be an annual event.

There’s no doubt Ironman would bring in millions in economic spinoff to the city. It would put Kelowna on the sporting map and it would keep the popular event in the valley.

But the city has a history of attracting big events only to see them flounder within a few years.

Hosting Ironman would be one of the biggest undertakings the city has ever attempted.

It can be done. But to do so, the public has to feel it is their event.

If not, Ironman Canada will be running to another community quicker than a shot from a starter’s pistol.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.


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