Jeff Symonds has raced all over the world, picking up accolades and medals along the way, but competing at home during this weekend’s Subaru Ironman Canada felt a bit different.
“Oh, it’s amazing right, to have Ironman back (in Penticton, B.C.) and just the energy in town was awesome,” Symonds said Monday, a day after crossing the finish line first with a time of 8:38:03.
Symonds is a long-time racer. He was the winner of the 2015 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Australia and had second-place finishes in 2014 and 2018 at Ironman Canada in Whistler.
There was no pro category for Symonds to race in for this year’s Penticton’s Ironman, so even though he technically came first in the competition he’s not benefitting financially from the win the way he would have if he’d won a race elsewhere.
He took on the course nonetheless, saying simply, “my heart was here.”
“It’s important to me to support my community and make sure that this race is awesome and then inspire the next generation of young athletes,” Symonds said
“I’ve had tons of great role models over the years and I wanted to make sure the kids (who) I coached… and all the kids in Penticton, had that kind of same my inspiration that I had growing up.”
And, he explained, it’s what Pentictonites, like him, do for this competition. They “show up.”
“There were spectators all over the course and, you know, this is a tough course. So I think all the athletes just needed all that support and encouragement to get through.”
Other competitors echoed that sentiment.
In the Age Group race, it was Cory Mayfield from Pasadena, California who came in first with a time of 8:59:15. He said he’d be back one day, knowing that it’s the home of the North American Iron Man.
“It was a great day and support out in the crowd was amazing,” Mayfield said. “The city is perfect for Ironman. It’s the ideal race scenario. So hopefully we’ll be able to come back someday to visit again.”
First, though, he intends to go to Arizona for another race and, higher on the agenda, to get married.
Jessica Cullen, from Waterloo, Ont., was the top woman contender. She took home a win finishing at 10:08: 05. She said the people of Penticton made a difference.
“I’ve never had crowd support like this in a race before. I mean, hands down,” she said. “(This is) the best Ironman I’ve ever done. Penticton really puts on a show.”
Cullen said that she made Penticton part of her race itinerary because she loves supporting Canadian races first.
“The people are incredible. The volunteers are so great. But also I mean, the scenery – I can’t get over it,” she said. “Like I said, when you’re in those really dark moments, being able to look around and seeing how great everything is, it just is such an incredible race.”
Susie Ernsting, Subaru Ironman Canada race director, said she is thrilled by how everything came together.
“The community came out in droves. They cheered on athletes all over the place and the feedback from the community and the athletes has been phenomenal,” she said.
In 1983, the first North American Ironman event was born, putting Penticton on the map as one of the world’s premier triathlon host communities, and a bucket list destination for Ironman athletes all over the world.
It had left the city for 10 years.
The race is a 226.3-kilometre journey through Penticton and the surrounding areas with a swim in Okanagan Lake, a bike course, and finally a run down to the historic finish line on Lakeshore Drive.
The 2022 Subaru Ironman Canada offered 55 age-group qualifying slots for the 2023 VinFast Ironman World Championship® in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.