VAL COMES TO CANADA: ESTABLISHING A MAINLAND IRONMAN. Valerie Silk came to Canada in the coldest part of the year with just a borrowed poncho for warmth. I took her to Richter Pass, where she immediately agreed it offered a bike challenge equal to what Ironmen and -women faced on the Kona Coast every October.
For any of you who have ever raced Ironman Canada, have a good look at this photo. This is where it all came together. Val and I are standing at the top of Richter Pass on the soon-to-be Ironman Canada bike course. At this time of year still covered in snow, the course's wintry orchards, stark vineyards and frozen lakes proved the perfect complement to the ever-sunny Kona Coast.
I wrote an article about Val's visit to Canada in 1985. You can read it here.
Earl and Kay attend the 1985 Ultra
Before the photo on Richter Pass was taken, Val decided to send her race director, Kay Rhead, and her director of international operations, Earl Yamaguchi, to observe the Ultra in the summer of 1985 with a view to licensing us as a bona fide Ironman in 1986.
When Kay and Earl came to Canada in August 1985 to see the race, they immediately became aware of the power struggles emerging between the race committee (consisting of me and my captains) and the Penticton Triathlon Society (a non-profit society governed by an executive board). One day, Kay Rhead gave me an ominous warning, reminiscent of the inscription Brian Porter had written on the jacket of The Little Red Hen (see episode 3, Ironperson). Kay said, “Get yourself a good lawyer, get yourself to Kona, and who’s ‘the society’ anyway?” Kay, being an American, was unfamiliar with the idea of a non-profit society running something like a race. I could only explain that in British Columbia, private ownership was all but a four-letter word at the time. But Kay insisted, “Who are they?” “Well,” I answered, “You could say they see themselves as our town’s little upper-crust”. She laughed and answered, “You’re upper-crust is pretty crummy.”
I attend the 1985 Ironman
That fall, I was asked to go to Kona to shadow Kay during the race in preparation for taking on the Ironman licence in 1986. Several of the Penticton Triathlon Society’s directors and their wives flew to Hawaii as well. While I was shadowing Kay around Kona, some of the society's directors were behaving badly--very badly. Earl asked me to meet him for lunch the day after the race. At lunch, Earl's voice was almost trembling. It was the first and last time I ever saw Earl angry. “Did you know your ‘society’ has come to Kona to secure the merchandising rights for Ironman in Canada?” he asked. “We are reconsidering issuing this licence.”
I was as angry as Earl was, but not surprised. Then he asked me, “Who are these people?” I tried explaining why Hawaii was having to deal with a British Columbia non-profit society instead of me and my race captains. “It’s you and your team we need to work with,” Valerie later told me, “Haven’t you ever heard that a camel is a horse built by committee?” I assured her I would do everything to see that she would deal with me and my captains directly in the future. On the strength of this commitment, and after a few more tussles between me and the society, Valerie came to Canada in January 1986 and agreed to award the Ironman licence to the Penticton Triathlon Society. The press release announcing the birth of Ironman Canada was dated 6 February 1986--my 44th birthday.
Over the next three months, Val sent several Kona race captains to Penticton to meet with mine. Founding captains like Chris Prowse, who Ironman Canada veterans know as the owner of the Bike Barn, met with Dennis Hazerott, Kona's bike course and marshalling director. You’ll hear more about both of them in the “A Few Good Men” episode. Val also sent Mo Matthews, masters swimmer and Waikiki rough water swim veteran. (Bee Gay Matthews, Mo's partner in life, love, and the Ironman swim course, stayed home to enjoy the spring-fed, stone-walled lap pool they had built in their back garden.)
Despite awarding the initial Ironman licence to the Penticton Triathlon Society, Valerie was never convinced that a society served much purpose. After a few more years of small-town politics and obvious dirty tricks, Valerie pulled the society’s licence and re-assigned it to me privately. When the licence was reassigned, I inherited the society's $100,000 deficit.
Valerie poignantly explained, “I won’t have malcontents attempting to catapult themselves into political or social prominence on the back of the Ironman.” From that point on, every piece of negative correspondence, every whiny phone call and every plea for changes Valerie received from the people Brian Porter described as “the weasels” was immediately forwarded to me. My promise to Val was to handle it quietly or ignore it completely and continue to focus on the new baby Ironman she had entrusted us with.
Ultra Dynamics: the film of the 1985 Ultra
The 1985 race was filmed by camera crews of Penticton's Shaw Cable 11. The film was produced and directed by me and edited by Wayne McDougall. I showed this video to Valerie Silk and other members of the Hawaiian Ironman organization in 1985. It played a crucial role in Hawaii's decision to grant the Ironman licence to Penticton's race in 1986.
Below is an excerpt from the film featuring Jim Karanas of Corvallis, Oregon. You can watch the entire film here. Jim finished the race in last place--but still smiling!
Next: The Aloha years