Swimmers quickly work their way away from shore during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Swimmers quickly work their way away from shore during Ironman Alaska. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Juneau is the biggest Ironman Alaska winner

From a wowed spectator to an enthusiastic supporter and proud host.

  • By Laurie Craig
  • Friday, August 26, 2022 6:25pm
  • Opinion

I met my first Ironman contestant four days before race day. He was shopping in Superbear. I spotted his bright blue and red backpack with the Ironman logo, welcomed him, and asked a few questions. He’d come from Las Vegas. Never been to Juneau. I met his son, another racer, from Portland outside the store. They inspired me to check out the Ironman Village, a temporary registration and merchandising venue, in Thunder Mountain High School.

I knew very little about the triathlon other than local publicity for over a year that Juneau would be the first Alaska Ironman destination. Not being an athlete, I didn’t think there was much involvement for me. I was definitively wrong about that assumption.

Now, weeks later, I am still buoyed from witnessing hundreds of dedicated, strong competitors swim, bike, and run for miles and hours. Watching them up close turned me from a wowed spectator to an enthusiastic supporter and proud host.

Logistics for the race focused on the University of Alaska Southeast campus as race headquarters. The UAS staff and TravelJuneau provided behind-the-scenes organizing. With Ironman guidance, the campus transformed into Auke Lake swimmers’ starts, finishes, and changing tents. This is where triathletes collected and returned their bikes, and swapped cycling shoes for running shoes. This is where they triumphed at the finish line, a red carpet channel through crowds of fiercely cheering supporters. I was among them, celebrating their huge achievements.

While my place was at the dawn lakeshore swim and later on campus for the bike exchange and at the finish line, other Juneauites had set up tents and tables at planned intervals along the course and at their driveways to support the competitors. Neighbors waved signs and offered bottled water and loud encouragement. Locals directed traffic to ensure safe riding and running. Tlingit dancers and drummers bracketed the last runners as they lifted up the triathletes with song and spirit after hours of solo effort.

Since the August 7 race, I have been following the participant discussions on the Ironman Alaska FaceBook page. Reading comments that started as worry about getting bikes shipped here in time for the race, concerns about local housing and transportation, and familiarizing the race course have morphed into ebullient praise for our community.

Competitors were boosted, cheered, assisted, fed, enchanted, enthused, and supported by Juneau’s beauty, kindness, tour opportunities, shops, restaurants, and community spirit. They praised us for taking good care of them. We bolstered their lagging energy as they biked a double loop out the road to cover 112 miles and ran twice through Mendenhall Valley and Montana Creek for a 26.2 mile marathon. These persevering athletes finished hours later under the inflatable Ironman arch at the UAS campus, and heard their names called with the tagline, “You are an Ironman!”

They left us feeling awed. They left us feeling excited. They left us inspired to fitness. They gave us a new guest demographic to host. They appreciated our help. They gave hundreds of Juneauites the chance to don neon green “volunteer” T-shirts and be of service to the participants and their families.

Ironman was more than an international sporting event held in Juneau. It was an exuberant celebration after being separated from each other during COVID. It broke the grip of fear, loss, and isolation that held us apart since March, 2020. Outside in the rain and wind that Sunday, we felt protected from sharing and receiving the virus. We reconnected with big smiles and happy voices. It was like the Fourth of July without beer and fireworks but with incredibly dedicated athletes to cheer.

In a town where “perseverance” has a strong history, these amazing athletes give the word new meaning. I look forward to seeing them next year!

For what they gave us, Juneau was definitely the big winner in Ironman.

• Laurie Ferguson Craig is a longtime Juneau artist and naturalist. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and former President Donald Trump stand on stage during a July 2022 rally in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tshibaka’s insincere defense of democracy

Kelly Tshibaka claims to understand why voter turnout for the 2022 general… Continue reading

(Courtesy Photo / Gwen Baluss)
Opinion: The Mendenhall Wetlands — a Juneau treasure

Juneau is very fortunate to have this rich biological resource…

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski prepares to meet officials at the Sealaska Heritage Institute during a visit to Juneau in November 2022. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau stands to benefit significantly from the 117th Congress

The last Congress was one of the best for our state in recent memory…

Capitol
Opinion: Humanism and the billionaire class

Compromise is the right thing to do and they should do it.

Alexander B. Dolitsky
Opinion: Neo-Marxism is a threat to the country

In the early 1980s, I attended graduate school at Brown University. Then,… Continue reading

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
The problem with ‘Always Fighting’

What about “Always Thinking” or “Always Working” or just “Always Building Coalitions for Alaska.”

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: A million visitors isn’t enough. Here’s why

I’ve been thinking about Pat White’s recent My Turn, Is anyone else… Continue reading

tt
The challenged truths of three elected representatives

Last Friday, the state Supreme Court affirmed that state Rep. Jennifer Armstrong,… Continue reading

Most Read