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.