Friday, October 19, 2007

The NikkiMan... a possible future race series?

I am a woman of many opinions as anyone who knows me will attest. And when I feel strongly about something, I tend to let everyone know about it, like it or not. It just so happens that as I sat here trying to think about what to write I remembered something my dad had mentioned a week ago concerning the Ironman that I feel stronly about. My dad and I are both crazy athletes. He has always been into something - running, cycling, triathlon. I suppose that is where I get it, so it was without question that I asked him to do the Ironman with me 4 years ago. Although I believe there may have been times that he would probably never consider doing it again, I sort of knew he would, or at least want to. That time has come, but it appears that getting into an "Ironman" event is not what it used to be.

When I worked for Ironman North America, I was inspired almost daily on several levels. There was something so exhilarating about talking to people who had worked so hard to be ready for an Ironman and had overcome unimaginable challenges to do so. It was rewarding to be a part of something that included professionals, competitive amateurs and regular old age groupers, such as myself, in the same event. Everyone started together, raced the same course and crossed the same finish line among a crowd of admirers. Despite the service that this company provides to people in organizing races, over the years I have come to believe that there must be a better way to allow more than just those with money to participate because it didn't start out that way. I remember many a time when Graham Fraser would bring me into his office to talk about what was happening amongst the participant crowd via the Athlete Service Center, and he stressed that we needed to focus on the athlete. I always agreed because without them, we wouldn't have a job. The Ironman started almost 30 years ago in Hawaii when a bunch of Marines decided to create an endurance event to see which of the three disciplines was most difficult. There were only 20 of them then. Millions of people have participated since then making it an international sport gaining more attention and significance in the professional and olympic realms. However, it seems to me that the focus has shifted from the athlete to the wealthy athlete.

I have worked in the triathlon industry on the race side as well as the marketing side, so I am quite familiar with the demographics of the sport. The majority of the participants in triathlon are upper middle class, executive types who make six figures and buy a lot of the latest gadgets. Fair enough. That makes sense considering the expenditures involved with new bikes, maintenance, regular running shoe replacement, gym memberships, etc. However, for a sport that is trying to gain wider recognition among the masses, it's exclusivity is limiting its progress. Perhaps that is really the way they want it. And to their credit, there must be some method to their new policies even if I am failing to see the way this comes back to the athlete. Let me explain.

Previously, a race would open for registration the morning following the current year's event. In some cases it would sell out in a couple of hours while others it might be a couple of days or weeks. In the case of Ironman Canada, they have not done online registration because it is such a popular race that people will travel to be a spectator and sign up the next day. All the other races would allow current year athletes to sign up after the event at the same time online registration opened. The policy has since changed. Now, current athletes can sign up the day before the current year event. Anyone present the day following the event may sign up from 9-11am. At noon, if there are any spots left, they will open it up to online registration. This seems like a recipe for having the same athletes in the race year after year and only those with money who can afford to travel to the race site to sign up will even have a chance. I will be interested in seeing how this all pans out. What about all the athletes who can't afford to fly to the race site to register? Is this really about the athlete?

So now my dad may face disappointment of being shut out of a race, not to mention the hundreds of other people who had planned to sign up online in November. The more I think about it the more I feel that they have lost touch with the real athlete. My husband thinks I need to start my own race series, which is almost a ludicrous idea. A few years back my friend Justin told me the same thing, but organizing a race, especially of that magnitude, is a huge undertaking. Ironman North America (North America Sports, as it is now called) has been around a long time and learned a lot of lessons along the way. It's not just setting up a course and getting people to participate. It involves permits, money (lots of it), sponsorhships, insurance, volunteers and participants. I'm not saying it can't be done starting from scratch, but it's a lot of work. There is no doubt in my mind the Graham Fraser worked hard to get his company where it is... or at least he chose a few smart people to help him along the way. There is clout that comes with the Ironman name and reputation. It is the organization that puts on the Hawaii Ironman, the world championship of Ironman Triathlon. Anyone who wants the prestige and honor of completing that event has to participate in an Ironman sanctioned event, and it is no small thing to be sanctioned.

I believe that people deserve a chance to compete. Those who make 45K work just as hard to prepare as those who make 120K, so they deserve the same chance at racing. I did the Ironman and finished well. There was a time when I thought I might do it again, and perhaps someday I will. But I suppose part of me is losing the love for the company Ironman and what it represents because it doesn't seem to represent triumph and endurance and athletic ability as much as it represents the almighty dollar. Sure, a business needs to be profitable but not at the expense of the people that will help it to grow. It'sobvious North America Sports is enjoying economic success, but then I suppose our ideas of success are different.


Michele White said...

There is no doubt in my mind that if you set your mind to it you could start your own race...a thousand times better than Ironman N.A. I have seen first hand just how hard you have worked at putting one of those races on. BTW, you look so beautiful in the lastest pictures you've posted. Marriage suits you so well :)


if ANYONE could form their own race- it would be YOU! You said it yourself- you've got the experience in it and I kNOW you are the hardest and most dedicated athlete I've ever seen! You could do it. Can I be in charge of the swim? haha.. yeah right! How's that going by the way? I love you guys! Lets do dinner again soon! Oh- I added you guys 2! xx

Doug and Dawn Hardy said...

Nikki I feel for your dad, even though I am not involved in racing, I just think that it's too bad that money is excluding some people from being able to participate in something they are so dedicated to. I hope it works out for him. That would be pretty cool if you started up your own race. I have no idea how much it entails but with all the races you have been in, with the experience of working for another company and with your determination I think you could do it.:)

Rebecca said...

I'm with cameron and the above. Start your own!


glad to hear you've experienced crazy peeps in the city too!! haha- its bound to happen more than once when you live in a city like New York! I just moved to 53 and 9th! Scott will move in after we're married.. its a fun place but we still have to set things up a bit. I'll have you over for dinner soon! I miss you guys! xx

You been swimming? I need to go SO bad!