A HOMEMADE IRONMAN: THE CANADIAN ULTRA, 1984-85. In its second year, the Ironperson became the Canadian International Ultra Triathlon—such a big name for such a little race. For two years, the Ultra was Canada's homemade Ironman-in-waiting.
1984 was the year Linda Mills and I heralded the Canadian International Ultra Triathlon in Penticton to the world in letters I am still embarrassed about to this day. It was also the first year that bagpipers from the Penticton Pipe Band led our athletes to the swim start. This became a tradition in every subsequent race. The bagpipers returned to a standing ovation at the beginning of the awards banquet.
Okanagan crews distinguished themselves by meeting needs of our athletes that even our captains had not anticipated. Because it turned quite chilly that year, hot chocolate was served from boats at the turnaround on the swim course and the athletes had the option of a cup of tea in the hot tub in the swim-bike transition, and even a massage on the run course.
Most importantly, there was a finisher’s tape for everyone when they crossed the finish line. The usual thing, of course, is that the winner of a race gets to cross the tape. I felt that if the athlete had done the distance, he or she deserved the tape whether coming first or last. Cut-off times have changd today but the tradition of a finish line tape for every finisher has continued year-after-year at Ironman Canada.
Harold Utke was our warehouse and construction captain from 1984 onwards. Because the race was beginning to show promise, Penticton’s human resources department offered to provide us with matching funds to hire an assistant to help build race equipment. Harold was the original grumpy old man. His job was to build bike racks, gear bag racks and stop signs for the race. He built them in my backyard.
Harold had been a supply sergeant in the Canadian military. And he wasn’t just grumpy, he was excellent and everybody grew to love him. Over the next eight years, he acquired a key to what seemed to be every government building in town and he always delighted in telling me why he couldn’t build what I asked before he assured me he knew just what to do. I never knew whether to hit him or hug him. If you ever called our offices during those Aloha Years and were greeted by “Yello, Ironman”, you met Harold Utke. You’ll see Harold Utke’s name appear prominently in a later episode, “A Few Good Men”.
Crystal the Irondog
This goofy set of photos race secretary Linda Mills took of her dog Crystal shows how folksy the race was back then.
Next: Val comes to Canada