Clements and Klemencic: Yes, We Did It! - Our Communities Finish IRONMAN
Randy Clements, D.P.M., is Chief of Foot and Ankle at the Institute for Orthopaedics and Neurosciences for Carilion Clinic. Sarah E. Klemencic, M.D., works in the Department of Emergency Medicine for Carilion Clinic and is Volunteer Director for the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
On Sunday, June 6th, the sun hadn’t risen as Carilion Clinic IRONMAN 70.3 Virginia’s Blue Ridge competitors arrived for the triathlon’s start at Carvins Cove. When morning dawned, nearly 1,700 triathletes prepared to be the first swimmers ever in the reservoir. An endurance event, unlike many others, had finally arrived.
Around four hours later, the event’s finish line commotion was a blend of celebration and direction. One of the triathletes crossed the finish saying, “Plant your flag!” That finisher, a technology executive from New York City, added, “You have something very special here.”
We set out three years ago to introduce our region’s vision. Supported by many sectors of our communities, our naturally beautiful region is now the host of a successful IRONMAN 70.3.
COVID-19 got in the way of our original plans, and IRONMAN postponed our event to this year. Our planning faded into the background while we fought the pandemic, but the vision didn’t disappear.
Earlier this year, the pandemic began looking less daunting. Our colleague, Dr. TK Miller, Carilion’s Chief of Sports Medicine and a longtime member of IRONMAN’s Medical Advisory Board, helped create IRONMAN’s Safe Return to Racing Guidelines. In addition, our communities teamed up and continued to plan. On May 28th, Virginia’s revised outdoor event protocols went into effect, providing us with the flexibility needed for a significant inaugural event unlike many before in our region.
When IRONMAN arrived in Roanoke on June 1st, our community partners stepped into action. Organizers prepared the racecourse, and River’s Edge Park transformed into festival grounds. What occurred starting June 4th became an enduring display of commitment by community members thirsting to share our resilience with spectators and an international audience online.
IRONMAN and the triathletes witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of community support for the event. We enlisted over 1,300 volunteers. They registered athletes, racked bikes, handed out food and drinks at aid stations, and kept the park grounds spotless. A team of over 200 medical volunteers dedicated themselves to assisting athletes in need. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses joined the Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge “I’M Local” campaign, making athletes and visitors feel welcome while they were here. Over 26 vendors extended the welcome at IRONMAN Village.
Local law enforcement, EMS, the National Park Service, the Western Virginia Water Authority, and transportation officials assisted in force. They ensured the athletes were safe while swimming at Carvins Cove, biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway and area roads and streets, and along the Roanoke River Greenway. A Botetourt County-based command center coordinated it all. Spectators cheered enthusiastically for every competitor.
Athlete after athlete talked about the challenges of the course, soaked up the unmatched beauty of our outdoors, and expressed how welcome they felt while racing and spending time in our world. So many competitors have already registered for the 2022 event, some committing when they crossed this year’s finish line. In addition, many volunteers have already re-enlisted for 2022.
We’re delighted the vision of bringing IRONMAN here became a collective “return to normal” event. A million little things went into convincing IRONMAN to come here, and a million more went into their event operations. Several intangibles awaited -- at Carvins Cove, on Blue Ridge Parkway hills and turns, on every paved street, in every part of the greenway, and along the finish line. But, by the time the IRONMAN team departed River’s Edge on the evening of June 6th, our communities had proven they were up to the challenge of hosting a world-class event.
Presenting IRONMAN was a huge lift. Yet, our communities experienced a massive thrill by embracing the event, having waited patiently for a glimpse of social normalcy. Likewise, our businesses that struggled, wondering if they’d survive, welcomed crowds of customers. Event planners and the patients and family members who experienced infirmities from COVID-19 shared a similar restlessness. As a result, an event once viewed predominantly as a showcase for our region’s outdoors transformed into a weekend of timely social and economic recovery.
We don’t know how to recognize everyone who took a chance on our vision other than by saying, “Thank you!” To our region’s communities, for what we ALL accomplished, we offer an equally hearty, “Thank you!”
Our region has countless extraordinary “visions” of what awaits all of us. The IRONMAN experience has reinforced that our communities support visionaries. So, let’s get to growing more of those visions. Step forward with your ideas, too, and witness the power of collaboration as those visions are made real.