Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Front Page -

In truth, I’ve never rid­den a bike that gave me such an over­all feel of speed, agility, com­pli­ance and stiff­ness all in one. Per­haps most im­por­tantly to me was how com­fort­able the bike is. The mod­i­fi­ca­tions in the aero and base bars seem to op­ti­mize setup, biome­chan­i­cally al­low­ing ef­fi­cient ac­cess to power. While it was by no means a sci­en­tific testing pa­ram­e­ter, my stan­dard 90 km loop un­der what I con­sid­ered typ­i­cal con­di­tions took me four min­utes less than nor­mal on this speed ma­chine.

Con­tain­ing many of the fea­tures al­ready found through­out the 9 Se­ries (start­ing at $ 6,400 for the 9.5), buy­ers can cus­tom up­grade or down­grade the com­po­nents on the 9.9 based on pref­er­ence, bud­get and ex­ist­ing gear. Cer­tainly a pow­er­house high per­for­mance bike, the Speed Con­cept 9.9 is an in­vest­ment, but one that is sure to change the triathlon land­scape.

Filippi is a world-class moun­taineer. He is the se­cond Cana­dian to have scaled both sides of Mount Ever­est, which he has done five times, and the first Que­be­cer to have done so. He is also a gifted mo­ti­va­tional speaker who guides au­di­ences to ac­tion. In one such speak­ing en­gage­ment, how­ever, Filippi found him­self mak­ing a pub­lic prom­ise to an au­di­ence mem­ber that sent his wife into a panic. Asked what there was left for him to fear given his fore­bod­ing climbs, Filippi con­fessed his big­gest fear

and was chal­lenged to con­front it. A life-long aqua­phobe hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced not one, but two, near drown­ings as a child, Filippi an­nounced he would face that fear in an Ironman. So he got a swim coach and signed up for Ironman Florida. Swim lessons be­gan by wad­ing into two feet of wa­ter, then two and a half, un­til he even­tu­ally took his first stroke. Given how slow the process was, and that he would have to be at Ever­est for three of the seven months he had to train, only two peo­ple be­lieved he would suc­ceed, his coach and Filippi him­self. With trep­i­da­tion, and well ahead of the cut-off, he swam 2:02 at the 2010 Ironman Florida. But, it was two years later, when he signed up for Ironman Trem­blant, that Filippi would re­ally test his courage and ex­pe­ri­ence the last­ing im­pact of a vol­un­teer’s gen­eros­ity. He de­scribes what he en­coun­tered that day as a “mag­i­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

He couldn’t bring him­self to pre­pare in the wa­ter be­fore the event. Stand­ing on the beach of Lake Trem­blant on race morn­ing, the gun hav­ing gone off, he was the only ath­lete left, par­a­lyzed by fear. It was a few min­utes be­fore he would drag him­self to­ward the wa­ter as his wife’s sup­port­ive words echoed on the empty stretch of sand. Within the first 20 min­utes, with heart rac­ing, strug­gling to breath, wa­ter be­gan fill­ing his gog­gles. As he tried to tighten them hang­ing onto the side of a kayak, he pulled too hard and broke the strap. The med­i­cal team was nearby and against his protests that out­side help would dis­qual­ify him, the medics had tweaz­ers that en­abled him to fix the strap and keep swim­ming. Hav­ing lost a lot of time fix­ing his gog­gles, his big­gest fear of be­ing en­gulfed by the fluid ex­panse felt like it was be­com­ing a re­al­ity. Without an­other swim­mer in sight, he was alone in a panic when he no­ticed a sole kayaker fol­low­ing him. “What’s your name?” a sooth­ing voice asked as he stopped to tread wa­ter. “I’m France,” she said to Filippi. “I will stick with you for the whole way, you are the last swim­mer so I can do that, just do your best, I will be here,” she said re­as­sur­ingly.

“I was breath­ing only to one side and it was the side she was on, so see­ing her right there kept me calm,” ex­plains Filippi. “All of a sud­den I be­gan to move smoothly. Her words kept me go­ing, she talked me through the en­tire swim.”

Soon he no­ticed that his escort was breath­ing harder and her kayak was mov­ing faster which he re­al­ized meant he was must be mov­ing faster too. “With 1 km to go she got re­ally ex­cited and told me I was mak­ing up time and that I was go­ing to make the cut off. ‘ Your go­ing to make it’ was all I could hear, and then came the sounds off the beach, the cheers and whis­tles from the shore. They were an­nounc­ing the of­fi­cial time and I couldn’t hear it but I knew I was close.”

Al­ready on the beach, about to make a mad dash for the tim­ing mat, Filippi stopped in his tracks. He turned right around and ran back to his new friend to give her a hug. “I could not have made it without her,” he as­serts. Ev­ery­one on the beach seemed to feel the power of what was un­fold­ing. A pho­tog­ra­pher stand­ing nearby caught that mo­ment of hu­man will in­ter­twined.

Later, when Filippi tracked his kayaker down through so­cial me­dia (and learned that her full name is France Le­duc), she ex­plained her ef­forts to him. She told him that in that mo­ment, “Your race was my race.” That was a sen­ti­ment he cer­tainly held him­self. Af­ter the race he would give her his race shirt and fin­ish­ing medal. “It was a joint ef­fort and these are as much yours as mine,” he would tell her. When Caro­line Bac­hand the di­rec­tor of ex­pe­ri­ence and vol­un­teers heard about Filippi’s story, she con­tacted him and asked him to

give a talk to the vol­un­teers, to ex­plain how sig­nif­i­cant their roles are even be­yond race day.

Without vol­un­teers like Le­duc, we wouldn’t have a sport. Without the army of sup­port­ers at events, there would be vir­tu­ally no en­durance events what­so­ever. They are the thou­sands of vol­un­teers who give of them­selves all day, run­ning their own en­durance event by stuff­ing race kits, regis­ter­ing par­tic­i­pants, hand­ing out halved ba­nanas, gels, wa­ter and ice. Over 4,000 vol­un­teers are needed to put on an Ironman and 1,000 to 2,000 for a 70.3. They pick up our trash, re­stock the porta-pot­ties, di­rect us on the race course, peel off our wet­suits and speed us through tran­si­tions. They kayak along­side us in the swim, call us out by name or by bib num­ber. At long dis­tance races, with an av­er­age ra­tio of 1.5 vol­un­teers for ev­ery com­peti­tor, ath­letes are well tended to. Of course not all of these are day-of vol­un­teers, many peo­ple are needed weeks and even months be­fore an event. Dur­ing the long hours of a race, vol­un­teers will take shifts, help­ing to en­sure they stay sharp and fresh. But what drives peo­ple to vol­un­teer for such events? How do for-profit cor­po­ra­tions such as Ironman man­age to har­ness such a mas­sive amount of hu­man for­ti­tude and gen­eros­ity?

Most ath­letes and spec­ta­tors can read­ily see, and even feel, the pow­er­ful effect of vol­un­teer sup­port. They help push the fal­ter­ing body and mind through rough patches in a race (and in an Ironman there are of­ten many). Un­der­stand­ing the last­ing im­pres­sion of such in­ter­ac­tions, how­ever, is harder to as­cer­tain.

With out­comes such as Filippi’s we know what vol­un­teers can do for us, but how is it that in an

“One of the things I miss about my work with Ironman is con­nect­ing vol­un­teers and ath­letes and see­ing how their syn­ergy comes to­gether in the raw­ness of phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­er­tion. Peo­ple step out of them­selves. In those mo­ments, the ‘me-cen­tred’ world be­comes about oth­ers. It’s amaz­ing to wit­ness.” – Gra­ham Fraser

in­creas­ingly self- cen­tred so­ci­ety, thou­sands of peo­ple give their time and en­ergy to the sport? What, so to speak, is in it for them? As with any­thing, built-in in­cen­tives are mo­ti­vat­ing. Much to the dis­may of ath­letes, Ironman races sell out al­most in­stan­ta­neously so giv­ing a Speed­pass (en­abling pri­or­ity regis­tra­tion for the fol­low­ing year’s event) to vol­un­teers is a highly val­ued re­turn. The caveat is that only cer­tain vol­un­teer roles yield the Speed­pass and they tend to be the more de­mand­ing jobs. Be­yond guar­an­teed en­try to a race, the ques­tion of what makes peo­ple want to vol­un­teer is a big one.

Gra­ham Fraser, founder of Cen­tu­rion Cycling and ceo of North Amer­ica Sports (which pre­vi­ously owned North Amer­i­can Ironman events), be­lieves peo­ple are mo­ti­vated by an in­nate de­sire to help oth­ers. “We see it reg­u­larly in times of cri­sis like the 9/11 at­tacks or at the Bos­ton Marathon this past year – the hu­man spirit is giv­ing in a time of cri­sis. The raw­ness of phys­i­cal ex­er­tion in ath­letes is some­thing like a cri­sis and it elic­its a de­sire to help in oth­ers. I think be­ing around en­durance sport brings the best out of peo­ple.”

Ac­cord­ing to World En­durance Canada’s Mitch Fraser, Gra­ham’s brother, the an­swer to the ques­tion of what mo­ti­vates peo­ple to vol­un­teer is prac­ti­cal and sim­ple. “Strictly speak­ing,” he says, “there is no such thing as vol­un­teer­ing any­more.” Since Fraser took over the On­tario-based Subaru Triathlon Se­ries in 1999 he has wit­nessed an evo­lu­tion in race sup­port. “In the early years, the ti­tle spon­sor, Royal LePage, would get its lo­cal re­al­tors to come out, or we’d get on the phone to ath­letes we knew and have them get their friends and fam­i­lies to help out.” But that’s a small pool to draw on re­peat­edly. “So we started pay­ing groups – soc­cer teams, hockey teams, lots of lo­cal clubs and many of the kids would start with us at 12 or 13 and con­tinue as they grew up through the club so would know the drill re­ally well.” Vol­un­teer­ing is an on­go­ing recruitment process, but there are lots of re­turns. “With the sport clubs, kids get to be part of a com­mu­nity which ex­poses them to the con­tin­ued value of sport into adult­hood, but they also al­ways get great meals and their com­mu­nity hours if they need them as well,” he con­tin­ues.

Gra­ham Fraser con­cedes these days vol­un­teer­ing is more ac­cu­rately about fundrais­ing. “Rather than a bake sale, have your team come out to help at a race and we do­nate money to the club. Race direc­tors are bud­get­ing for vol­un­teers now and for the big races, are spend­ing large sums on them.” While this cer­tainly ac­counts for a large num­ber of vol­un­teers, what about those in­di­vid­u­als such as Le­duc? What moves and mo­ti­vates them?

For one thing, work­ing as a vol­un­teer can give you a clear per­spec­tive on what is in­volved in rac­ing the event. This is great race prepa­ra­tion from those want­ing to be on the other side of the equa­tion in the fu­ture.

What makes a good vol­un­teer? Is there such a thing as a bad one? From the per­spec­tive of a race di­rec­tor, there are cer­tainly vol­un­teers that stand out.

“If you in­vest time and en­ergy into your vol­un­teers, they will be happy and so in­clined to do a great job,” says Cory Freed­man, founder of the Toronto Women’s Only Runs and owner of Max V02 Man­age­ment, which has ex­e­cuted sport and com­mu­nity events for 20 years.

“You also in­crease the like­li­hood they will re­turn the fol­low­ing year, mak­ing for an ex­pe­ri­enced and ef­fi­cient crew. They need to be able to take pride in what they are do­ing.”

None­the­less, mis­takes can, and do, hap­pen. Ath­letes have ex­pe­ri­enced ev­ery­thing from be­ing handed empty cups at wa­ter sta­tions, to be­ing handed some­one else’s “spe­cial needs bag.” But there can be more se­ri­ous in­stances as well. While it is the ath­lete’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to know the race course, a num­ber of front- end ath­letes have ex­pe­ri­enced go­ing off course when a vol­un­teer mis­di­rected them or sim­ply didn’t know which way to point them. This can be frus­trat­ing. But that does raise the is­sue of train­ing vol­un­teers. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to equip vol­un­teers with the info they need so they have the con­fi­dence to an­swer ques­tions and di­rect ath­letes prop­erly. For this, de­vot­ing time to se­cur­ing vol­un­teer cap­tains is cru­cial,” con­tin­ues Freed­man. They be­come the eyes and ears of the Race Di­rec­tor. Typ­i­cally paid an hon­o­rar­ium, vol­un­teer cap­tains must make sure their crew knows their role, and per­haps most im­por­tantly, what to do if there are hic­cups.

Even with best pos­si­ble train­ing, ac­ci­dents can hap­pen. In 2008, Cana­dian pro triath­lete Tara Nor­ton was rid­ing in fourth place at the World Cham­pi­onship in Kona. She was hav­ing the race of her life. Well stocked for nutri­tion she was hop­ing to ride through the feed­zone at mile 80. Just as Nor­ton’s mind was com­put­ing the clear­ance of bot­tle she no­ticed rolling off to the side of the road, a well-mean­ing vol­un­teer ran to scoop it up and right in front of Nor­ton. The two col­lided in a crash that not only ended Nor­ton’s race, but left her with five bro­ken ver­te­brae in her back, and frac­tures in her rib, wrist, foot, and pelvis. The vol­un­teer sus­tained lac­er­a­tions to her leg but thank­fully noth­ing more se­ri­ous. In that in­stance, it would have been es­sen­tial to know how to ac­cu­rately judge the time and dis­tance of on­com­ing cy­clists. Such nu­ances must be ad­dressed by vol­un­teer cap­tains and race or­ga­niz­ers.

No vol­un­teer wants to be put in that kind of a sit­u­a­tion. And for the most part, they aren’t. Alan Brooks, race di­rec­tor of Cana­dian Run­ning Se­ries, in­clud­ing the Sco­tia­bank Wa­ter­front Marathon, ex­plains that there has been a “seis­mic shift” in vol­un­teer­ing over the last 30 years and re­cruit­ing, as well as train­ing, is far more so­phis­ti­cated than it’s ever been. “First and fore­most our in­dus­try has grown enor­mously with events get­ting big­ger and more com­plex and our cus­tomers are ex­pect­ing a full-blown ex­pe­ri­ence.” For this, races re­quire more and bet­ter-trained vol­un­teers. “Ten years ago,” says Brooks, “we used to throw our stuff on the back of a truck and set up the race course, but now we have a full-time staff mem­ber whose job is to find, train and re­tain vol­un­teers. The vol­un­teer regis­tra­tion is au­to­mated on­line and is quite elab­o­rate. Soon we will be able to tag our vol­un­teers with a reg­is­tered bar code so we will be able to com­mu­ni­cate with them and track them through­out the day should we need to ac­cess them.”

For Bac­hand, the added so­phis­ti­ca­tion of so­cial me­dia as a means of reach­ing out to the com­mu­nity has be­come es­sen­tial for vol­un­teer­ing. When only 486 vol­un­teers were reg­is­tered for last year’s Trem­blant 70.3, with only 10 days be­fore the race, Face­book helped re­cruit the re­main­ing 1,000 in record time.

The Frasers and Brooks note that it is now stan­dard to give hon­o­raria for cer­tain vol­un­teer roles. Many vol­un­teers are re­quired to at­tend a few pre-event lo­gis­tics meet­ings and Brooks in­sists, “Those are big time in­vest­ments and we can’t ex­pect peo­ple to at­tend those for free.” They might get a small hon­o­rar­ium, but that would hardly jus­tify the many hours these vol­un­teers put into events.

“Ten years ago we used to throw our stuff on the back of a truck and set up the race course, but now we have a full-time staff mem­ber whose job is to find, train and re­tain vol­un­teers.” –Alan Brooks

There are out­stand­ing vol­un­teers, and then there are the Van Beur­dens, a triathlon fam­ily from Toronto, Frank Van Beur­den, known as the mount/dis­mount guy, has been vol­un­teer­ing for over 15 years. A for­mer na­tional level sailor, Van Beur­den un­der­stands com­pet­i­tive sport, the ath­lete’s mind­set, the need for lo­gis­ti­cal ac­cu­racy and the en­force­ment of rules.

He be­gan vol­un­teer­ing when his daugh­ter Ni­cole and son Chris ( both elite triath­letes) be­gan rac­ing. Watch­ing his kids, he no­ticed the gaps in sup­port. Ath­letes, for in­stance, would get a slight ad­van­tage by dis­mount­ing just a bit early or would hes­i­tate (and so lose time) when they weren’t sure where to go at a cor­ner or into and out of tran­si­tion. So, in one such in­stance at the Oril­lia Triathlon, he jumped right in went to work di­rect­ing ath­letes. There and then his vol­un­teer ca­reer be­gan. He wanted to make him­self use­ful, he says, and any­one who has ever raced in On­tario knows just how es­sen­tial he has be­come. A grate­ful Mitch Fraser ap­proached and thanked Van Beur­den at that race in Oril­lia and a boun­ti­ful re­la­tion­ship was born. In fact, Van Beur­den’s en­tire fam­ily (even his kids who were rac­ing) be­gan vol­un­teer­ing at races, and he and his wife Cyn­thia and daugh­ter Ni­cole would be­come oat cer­ti­fied race of­fi­cials. Both fa­ther and mother work tran­si­tion (to be able to see their kids at least twice dur­ing the race), but they also seem to be ev­ery­where on a course do­ing count­less jobs. From Frank’s bike course mar­shalling on the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle, to Cyn­thia’s man­age­ment of the tim­ing chips be­fore the event, there’s very lit­tle the Van Beur­dens don’t do.

Al­ways great for a bear hug, both mother and fa­ther of­fi­ci­ate with a se­ri­ous­ness and pro­fes­sion­al­ism that cul­ti­vates eq­uity and a smooth run­ning event. Fair­ness in sport is clearly a deeply held be­lief in the Van Beur­den fam­ily. Ni­cole, an ex­cep­tion­ally strong cy­clist, al­ways rode hard off the front in a race, know­ing her fa­ther would hand her a draft­ing penalty in a split se­cond with his res­o­lute ad­min­is­tra­tion of the rules. She was de­ter­mined to avoid that chance.

For the last 12 years the Van Beur­dens have been of­fi­ci­at­ing and vol­un­teer­ing at 10 to 15 races a year even do­ing so at the na­tional level for which they have to pay their own way. Frank has won nu­mer­ous vol­un­teer awards, in­clud­ing the Betty Black Award from Triathlon On­tario twice, as well as the Don Lorimer Award from Trisport for out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the sport which was ad­min­is­tered by TMC’s own Kevin Mackin­non. De­spite his of­fi­ci­at­ing per­sona, Frank is hum­ble and shy. “All vol­un­teers de­serve credit,” he says about re­ceiv­ing the­ses awards, “so pick­ing one per­son out is like say­ing all the rest aren’t as wor­thy and that’s not the right mes­sage.” Still, he was very touched.

Know­ing his own kids could not have done what they have in the sport without the help of vol­un­teers like him, mo­ti­vates Van Beur­den to do the work he does. As vol­un­teers or of­fi­cials (who re­ceive a nom­i­nal hon­o­rar­ium) “we are part of some­thing big­ger – cogs in a wheel, a re­ally neat wheel,” he ex­plains. “That feels good.” Trem­blant’s Bac­hand agrees. She has wit­nessed how much the en­ergy be­tween ath­letes and vol­un­teers f lows both ways. “They en­er­gize each other,” she says. “There is a buzz that lingers even af­ter the event and it is dy­namic and ex­cit­ing.” For com­pet­i­tive run­ner and

triath­lete Alis­tair Mon­roe, vol­un­teer­ing gives him the chance to give back to the com­mu­nity and en­joy the ca­ma­raderie cre­ated among the vol­un­teers them­selves. “As an ath­lete my­self giv­ing back to the process that al­lows me to race is a won­der­ful thing. I’m so pas­sion­ate about peo­ple achiev­ing their goals, I get so much out of that. Peo­ple think it’s tough, but I al­ways have so much fun and al­ways work with the same group of peo­ple so it ends up be­ing a get to­gether.”

For long­time triathlon vol­un­teer Leanne Briscoe, such rec­i­proc­ity is com­pelling. “I en­joy be­ing of as­sis­tance. Many com­peti­tors say ‘ Thanks for be­ing here!’ and that brings a smile to your face – makes you feel like be­ing there is worth­while.” There are times, how­ever, when com­peti­tors are less than grate­ful, par­tic­u­larly those at the front end or those on the re­ceiv­ing end of a penalty. “Some ath­letes tend to get into a zone once they put on a race bib and can be rude or even ag­gres­sive to vol­un­teers,” she reveals. “You just learn to have thick skin and not let the bad com­ments out­weigh the great ones.” In fact, “Not obey­ing an of­fi­cial or be­ing abu­sive to of­fi­cials” is wor­thy of a DQ ac­cord­ing to the rules of most race se­ries in­clud­ing Ironman. Cyn­thia Van Beur­den ex­plains, that she of­ten has ath­letes who have been of­fen­sive to her, find her af­ter the race and apol­o­gize.

Yet, such fric­tion is by no means the norm. Gra­ham Fraser speaks nos­tal­gi­cally of the in­vig­o­rat­ing and benev­o­lent vibe in triathlon. “One of the things I miss about my work with Ironman is con­nect­ing vol­un­teers and ath­letes and see­ing how their syn­ergy comes to­gether in the raw­ness of phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­er­tion. Peo­ple step out of them­selves. In those mo­ments, the ‘me- cen­tred’ world be­comes about oth­ers. It’s amaz­ing to wit­ness.”

For Gabriel Filippi and count­less oth­ers, the vol­un­teers who helped them achieve their goals and con­quer their demons won’t soon be for­got­ten. His two youth­ful es­capes from near drown­ing, and the guid­ing kayak of France Le­duc at Mont-Trem­blant sug­gest he has some pretty stel­lar an­gels on his side or an in­cred­i­ble amount of luck. Just be­fore Ironman 70.3 this past June, Filippi was on an ex­pe­di­tion to climb Nanga Par­bat ( known as Killer Moun­tain for sus­tain­ing nu­mer­ous moun­taineer­ing deaths). He heard a voice in his head telling him to aban­don the ex­pe­di­tion – Que­bec and his fam­ily were tug­ging at him. He did so, be­gin­ning his trek back down just hours be­fore Is­lamic mil­i­tants at­tacked and killed the re­main­ing 10 climbers and a Pak­istani guide. Re­mark­ably it was on the same day as Trem­blant 70.3 that he touched down in Mon­treal and heard the news of the dev­as­tat­ing loss and the death he so nar­rowly es­caped.

“I don’t know who to thank for the fact that I am still alive today. Is it wis­dom, ex­pe­ri­ence, an an­gel, a god up there, climb­ing friends who passed away years ago, Trem­blant vibes that crossed the ocean, I will never know,” he ob­serves. But Fil­lipi does know the power of feel­ing sup­ported, en­cour­aged, pro­tected and the magic that can come of that. We know that Le­duc fer­ried him to a dream and through his own achieve­ments he will con­tinue that mo­men­tum, help­ing oth­ers tackle their own per­sonal Ever­ests.

2012 Ironman Mont-trem­blant

Above The 2012 Ironman Mont-trem­blant in Que­bec op­po­site top Gabriel Filippi fin­ish­ing his swim along­side France Le­duc at the 2012 Ironman Mont Trem­blant

Above left Vol­un­teers hand wa­ter to Lisa Bent­ley dur­ing the 2007 Ford Ironman World Cham­pi­onship above The 2011 Ironman World Cham­pi­onship op­po­site Adam Craw­ford, the bike escort for the lead run­ners, at the 2013 Subaru Ni­a­gara Triathlon in July

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