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COVID-19: Ironman athletes ‘heartbroken’ by event cancellation but vow to return stronger in 2022

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 claims Ironman race' COVID-19 claims Ironman race
Athletes have spent months dedicated to training for the 2021 Ironman triathlon in Penticton, B.C., on Sept. 26. The world-renowned endurance race has been cancelled for a second year due to re-introduced COVID-19 restrictions in the B.C. Interior, the province's coronavirus hot spot. Shelby Thom reports. – Aug 25, 2021

Amateur athletes from across B.C. who have dedicated months to gruelling training regimes are “devastated” and “heartbroken” by Ironman‘s cancellation in Penticton, but say they vow to return to the world-renowned triathlon in 2022.

Jennifer Waller of Richmond planned to complete her first full Ironman in the Okanagan city last summer, before that race event was also cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s hard because you are kind of disappointed and heartbroken and when they changed the date, I think we all knew it was a risk,” Waller said.

Read more: COVID-19 fourth wave claims Ironman, Granfondo races in Penticton

“A lot of triathletes, we use the winter season to building strength, and then coming January/February, the hours start coming. I think I am doing 22 to 23 hours per week of training,” she said.

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Kamloops resident Amy Tucker said committing to her Ironman journey was a life-changing experience.

“At the start of my 2019 Ironman training, I would describe myself as obese, unhealthy, and depressed, with no real purpose in life. It would be fair to describe myself as an ordinary grandmother, employed as an instructor in a university, and struggling with some health issues,” Tucker said.

“I used the pandemic to transform my life and focus on my nutrition, health, and training. Ironman training gave me a sense of purpose: mentally, physically, and spiritually.”

Ironman’s cancellation for the second year in a row was also a crushing development for Tucker.

Click to play video: 'Ontario man dies while competing in Alberta Ironman race' Ontario man dies while competing in Alberta Ironman race
Ontario man dies while competing in Alberta Ironman race – Aug 2, 2021

“I actually cried, I broke down and cried, and for me, it was really a huge challenge to think, ‘I’ve come this far,’ I really mentally focused on getting this race done,” Tucker said.

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Read more: Ironman triathlon postponed to September in Penticton, B.C.

James Young is a coach who trained 11 athletes to compete in the 2021 Ironman Canada-Penticton event, scheduled for Sept. 26.

“No one complained, despite the huge amount of training, the huge levels of commitment, and the huge amounts of sacrifice that these athletes make,” Young said.

“It’s devastating for everyone that they can’t do the race that they wanted to do but it’s been pleasing to see everyone’s attitude and they are all saying, ‘let’s hit 2022 hard.’”

Ironman said more than 3,000 athletes were scheduled to participate, and they have been provided several options, including deferral, transfer or refund.

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On Friday, the Interior Health Authority expanded COVID-19 restrictions, previously reserved to the Central Okanagan, to the entire B.C. Interior, due to rising infections and lower-than-average vaccination rates.

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The restrictions include a cap on outdoor organized gatherings to 100 people.

The announcement prompted a chain reaction and other major outdoor sporting events were cancelled, including the Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan mass cycling event in Penticton.

Read more: Coronavirus sidelines another event: 2020 Ironman Canada triathlon in Penticton, B.C., cancelled

“This year we were going to be in the vicinity of 2,200 riders and there were also recommendations regarding travel into and from Interior Health that also would have restricted the event,” said race director Jeff Plant.

“It is really difficult because we cancelled in 2020 because of COVID. During the course of the pandemic, cycling has been an absolute hit, cycling sales have surged, bike sales have surged, participation in cycling has been at record levels, so there was a huge amount of enthusiasm to participate in the event, and unfortunately we had to cancel, and we’ve disappointed a lot of people,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Peggy’s Cove to Portapique: Local Ironman to run 176km for charity' Peggy’s Cove to Portapique: Local Ironman to run 176km for charity
Peggy’s Cove to Portapique: Local Ironman to run 176km for charity – Jul 28, 2020

The Penticton Dragon Boat Festival also struggled to stay afloat due to numerous setbacks.

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“Our province was filled with smoke and there were fires and highway closures, so it was kind of a double, triple or quadruple whammy of things that kept our registration low this year,” said Don Mulhall, the event’s race director.

Read more: Coronavirus: Canadian athlete finishes 2nd in first-ever Ironman virtual reality race

The major event cancellations in the tourism-dependent town are another blow to the city’s economic recovery efforts.

“We were hoping that we were going to have this opening up of the City of Penticton again, especially during the shoulder season, September, we never had these events that late in the season before,” said Penticton Mayor John Vassulaki.

Click to play video: 'It’s official: Ironman is racing home to Penticton in 2020' It’s official: Ironman is racing home to Penticton in 2020
It’s official: Ironman is racing home to Penticton in 2020 – Jul 16, 2019

“This would have helped carry on and bring revenue into the community and all the businesses and commercial enterprises to help out with all the losses they’ve had in the last year and a half.”

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All events are promising to return to Penticton in 2022.

“There is a part of me that is super excited to see what I am really capable of for next year. The goal this year was just to finish,” Waller said, optimistically.

“Next year at the finish line there is going to be quite the party.”

Ironman has an over 30-year history with the City of Penticton, dating back to 1983.

Ironman Canada remained in Penticton through 2012 with Whistler hosting from 2013-2019, before the event was brought back to its origins.

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