August 19, 2018 2:59 pm
Updated: August 19, 2018 8:05 pm

‘It’s been a rough week’: Organizers devastated to cancel Kelowna’s Apple Triathlon due to air quality

It was a disappointing weekend for organizers, volunteers and athletes in Kelowna as the Apple Triathlon was cancelled due to poor air quality.

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After a year and a half of planning, race director Susie Ernsting and her team, as well as Triathlon Canada officials, were forced to make the difficult decision to cancel the 35-year-old Apple Triathlon in Kelowna.

With British Columbia in a state of emergency due to wildfires and air quality sitting at a 10+ rating over the weekend, the health risk for athletes and volunteers was too high.

“It’s tough. It was a massive amount of work from my team and our volunteers and Triathlon Canada, but it is what it is,” Ernsting said. “We can’t see the end of the dock where the swimmers would be so it’s the right decision to make, and the fact that it’s this bad makes it a little bit easier.”

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READ MORE: Air quality level at 10-plus in smoke-filled Okanagan; Apple Triathlon cancels Saturday’s races

An emergency risk management team was monitoring air quality throughout the week. Health care professionals advised the following protocol: air qualities below 7 would allow the race to continue, air quality between 7-8 would mean the races would be shortened or delayed, and a rating of 9 or more would mean delay or cancellation.

The sold-out event had approximately 1,400 athletes registered to race, including about 150 elite competitors.

The race included the Canadian Triathlon National Championships hosted by Triathlon Canada, as well as a Continental Cup Race. Top elite athletes from all across Canada, as well as the United States and Mexico, were in Kelowna for a chance to score International Triathlon Union (ITU) points.

Kim Van Bruggen, CEO of Triathlon Canada, said cancelling a national championship has never happened. When asked how she personally felt about having to cancel the event, the CEO teared up.

“That’s difficult,” Bruggen said emotionally. “Seeing how it’s impacted everyone else, that’s been the hardest. You want everyone to feel and know and have an amazing opportunity, an amazing time, and everyone’s put so much effort into it.”

READ MORE: Apple Triathlon organizers closely monitoring air quality

Van Bruggen said she hasn’t noticed any pushback from the decision.

“Honestly, I have not heard one whisper of negative comment whatsoever. Everyone is saying it was the right call to make.”

Grant Flagler has been preparing for this race for months, training four to five times per week. The athlete traveled to Kelowna from Calgary with a group of friends, excited to participate in his first Olympic distance race of the season.

“These things happen; Mother Nature tends to always win,” Flagler said. “There was a lot of work put in but at the same time it is bittersweet. It was nice to spend the weekend with friends and family.”

Flagler was in complete agreement with the cancellation of the event, as was fellow Calgarian, Nick Pelletier, who was supposed to participate in the race with his father.

“I went for a run just to clear my head and you can definitely feel it in the lungs,” Pelletier said. “So it’s a good call that it was postponed or cancelled.”

As for what’s next, the organizers are determined to make the 2019 Apple Triathlon bigger and better than ever.

“We’ve had a great test run,” Ernsting said. “We know where everything goes, we know how it will all work. So we’ll be prepared for next year in August when, hopefully, everyone will be back.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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