LISTEN TO SHEILA O’KELLY tell the story, and the success of one of the longest running International Triathlon Union (ITU) events has almost nothing to do with her. The event has its roots from a Kids of Steel race O’kelly put on in the 1980s, which would morph into the St. Albert Triathlon. That race would host the national junior championship in 1996. That year, O’kelly put a bid in to host the world championship in 2001 – which was a huge success. Since 1999 Edmonton has hosted a major international ITU event almost every year, including another world championship in 2014. (The ITU asked O’kelly if she would organize the 2014 worlds on 17 months notice after San Diego pulled out from hosting the event.)
The way O’kelly tells it, in her wonderful Irish accent (she moved to Edmonton from Ireland in 1978 and, along with her husband and four kids, caught the triathlon bug), the success of the race is because of all the other people, many of whom “have been with us since that first KOS race and when we hosted junior nationals.”
While that is no doubt 100 per cent true, I still contend that the success of the Edmonton event has a lot to do with the leader. It starts from the top, in my mind, and O’kelly leads by example, working tirelessly to ensure that the Edmonton race remains amongst the best in the world. I’m not the only one who thinks that, either. In 2005 O’kelly was tasked by the ITU to coordinate the world cup series. She travelled the world working on world cup events and was an integral part in many world championship events over the years, too. It’s why Edmonton would have been the go-to race in 2014. (What is it about Canada and turning things around quickly for a world championship? Danny Mccann managed a similar feat in Montreal in 1999.) It’s also why Edmonton will be the first venue to host a world championship or Grand Final three times – the ITU is bringing the championship back to Alberta in 2020.
O’kelly will tell you all this is because of those great volunteers, the incredible support of the City of Edmonton, along with much appreciated help from the provincial and federal governments. She’ll tell you that Triathlon Canada has historically been an integral partner in the process, too. Basically, she’ll talk about everyone other than herself. I don’t buy that for a second. All of those partners are critical and a huge part of the incredible success of the ITU World Triathlon Edmonton. To me, though, it starts from the top with one Sheila O’kelly.
BELOW Randy Boissonnault, MP of Edmonton Centre and Sheila O’kelly