Saturday, January 21, 2017

Respect the RD! Interview with RaceTri

RaceTri is known for great local races and epic pre-race speeches. Continuing our "Respect the RD!" series with RaceTri's Aaron Shamy, a former world-class rock climber who now sacrifices his time and energy for our triathlon community.

Thanks for the time, Aaron!

Can you give us a quick history of RaceTri?

RaceTri started in the year 2000 with what has become one of Utah’s favorite sprint distance events, The Salem Spring Sprint triathlon. At the end of 2009 we took over RaceTri to become partners/owners/operators. We consider ourselves to be a small local Ma & Pa type shop. We do not compete with the big operators like WTC but want to give our athletes a wonderful racing atmosphere while also providing a quality experience!

Rumor has it you’ve moved to Alaska... why the move, and what’s the future of RaceTri?

Hahaha! Rumors!!! We are so funny about rumors in our tight community … meaning that they spread fast and evoke all sorts of feelings. Yes, I have moved to Alaska! I have been asked by my employer; Seminaries & Institutes, to take on a new assignment to coordinate the seminary and institute programs in Wasilla, Alaska. The move has been wonderful to stretch me professionally and provide a unique adventure for my family. The future of RaceTri will remain mostly unchanged. I am thinking there needs to be a RaceTri sister event in one of these gorgeous Alaska lakes. Still working on it… Most of Race Directing happens before race day and from behind a computer screen and on the phone. With that being said I will continue to attend all the events, only difference is my commute is now 3000 miles. Athletes used to only seeing me on Race day will never know the difference.

This is probably like asking which of your kids you love most, but what’s your “podium” for favorite RaceTri events?

#3 Escape from Black Ridge, The Herriman Triathlon ... A swim with a view

#2 Salem Spring/Ice Breaker … where everybody knows your name (or learns it if you are new)

#1 THE TOUGHMAN UTAH HALF is my FAVORITE!!! It’s the day that dreams are made of!

Black Ridge Reservoir
What are the most rewarding & frustrating aspects of being a race director?

The most rewarding thing about being a race director is the people! I love the people, their stories, the lives changed, the obstacles overcome to reach the finish line. It's like having front row seats to the greatest sporting event of all time every time, I love it! To pretend like I play some small role in an individuals journey is rewarding beyond words.

Frustrating aspects ... Hmmm ....Race directing frustrating? Never thought that before … haha! J/K … I have worked in the ground operations control tower out at the SLC airport, competed at the highest level of sports for gold medals and world cup titles, but never got ulcers & kidney stones until I started race directing. Many of the stresses of race directing I welcome and try to embrace and approach with a “Let’s find a solution” attitude… however, your readers might be interested to know that some frustrating things for a RD might include:

getting the crowd amped at Icebreaker

When someone commits to helping on race day and then doesn’t show up, it can be frustrating left scrambling to fill volunteer spots to keep everyone safe and the race running smoothly. It’s better to say no, than to say yes and not show up or cancel last minute.

When an individual signs up to race both the athlete and the RD assume certain levels of risk and responsibility that all will go as planned. One frustrating aspect is when race week comes around and an athlete discovers that for whatever reason (injury, family, work, a better offer) they cannot race. It's bad form to then with days until the race to seek refunds or rolling over their event to another race. Athletes that do this need to understand that your entry fee has already been allocated on dozens of different expenses it takes to make this event happen for them! When they seek to roll their entry over to another event all those expenses need to be paid for again yet this time these fees come out of the event planners pocket. 

Bandit running is stealing. Most municipalities have passed ordinances that support this view.

drone's eye view of Salem

The Toughman Utah Half recently ranked #3 in our "People's Vote Top 10 Utah Races" results. However, there's been some speculation about changes. Any updates on the water conditions of Utah Lake or in general?

I recently had someone reach out and message me with some concerns about the cancelled swim at the Toughman last year and was nervous about signing up because of the chance the swim could be cancelled again. Here was my reply to that athlete:

In RaceTri's 16 year history and almost 100 Triathlon events... last year's Toughman was the first time any portion of any event had to be completely cancelled (due to the toxic algae, which can be deadly). It is highly unlikely that we will have the event at Utah Lake again. We will announce the new location as soon as permissions are secure

In the 20 or so triathlons I have personally done I have experienced multiple canceled portions of an event due to wind/lightning/water conditions etc. (not any our events). I understand how disappointing it can be

I think Racetri may have one of the best records of any event organizer worldwide (including IM) most of this good fortune is due to luck and some of it is due to our tireless efforts to make back up plans and secure other options when something does go wrong.

With that being said any time you sign up for any event athletes run the risk of potentially having portions of their race cancelled or cut short. Even the Ironman brand has had to cancel swim portions, bike portions, and run portions of events due to weather, and other unforeseen conditions that make an event unsafe... I remember a few years ago they cancelled an entire race (Tahoe) because close by fires had made the air quality questionable. It is a sad day when that has to happen

the Toughman Utah Half may be moving away from Utah Lake

So to answer your question. We are working on a new venue, and we will seek back up plans if that new venue experiences last minute problems but there are some acts of God that even the best laid plans and back up plans cannot foresee. Unfortunately, ambiguity is the nature of racing at events in our sport. Developing some level of comfort with uncertainty is a necessary evil as athletes and race organizers embark together in a calculated risk. That being said we took very good care of our Toughman athletes last year at great expense to our organization. Giving them heavy discounts to our remaining races last year and to this year's Toughman. We love our athletes!

From your perspective what’s the current state of triathlon in Utah?

Utah is one of the most athletic states in the union! Participation in organized events could be cited as one of the evidences of the popularity of Utah’s athleticism. Some people get their start into event racing with a novelty 5K or multi-leg running event. Some people find their stride solely with the running events but for those seeking new ways to challenge themselves they make the transition to ultraracing or multisport events like triathlon. The condition of triathlon in Utah is good! There are many events and event companies for athletes to choose from, giving them a variety of courses and experiences to keep them motivated and busy. Also worthy of note is the incredible community of triathletes. For those who come to the sport of triathlon in Utah and stay you have wonderful organizations like the SLC TRI CLUB, TEAM BAM, BLONDE RUNNER, TEAM DODO, and many more … for heaven's sake, Utah County is home to the IRON COWBOY, there is triathlon royalty in our midst and by going out to the races you could find yourself high fiving some of the greats in the sport right here in Utah.

Who are some age groupers who come to mind as being the best “ambassadors” of the sport that you’ve witnessed over the years (not in terms of results necessarily, but as in good attitude, inspirational, sportsmanship, etc)?

Each year we keep our eye out for individuals who demonstrate great sportsmanship, volunteerism, overcoming the odds, those who go the extra mile to advocate for the sport! They are inducted into what we call “RaceTri Royalty”. They are separated into two categories; Athlete & Volunteer of the year:

RaceTri Athletes of the Year

2012 Emily Blodgett
2013 David Warden 
2014 Joanne Isaksen 
2015 Travis Iverson 
2016 Afton Swensen 

RaceTri Volunteers of the Year

2012 Kristin Krotoski 
2013 Mandy & Eric Oscarson
2014 Connie Barnes 
2015 Greg Howell 
2016 The Salt Lake Tri Club (Accepted by Justin Lynch)

Additional names that come to mind would include:

Rory & Courtney Duckworth 
Mitch Orgill
Wes Johnson
Andrew Stasinos 
Lora Erickson 
Eric Newren
Allison Matson
Joe Martel 
Gary Henderson
Michele Conover 
Carrie Higbee 
Utah Search & Rescue 
Police and Medical Personal across this great state
And of course our Iron Cowboy; James Lawrence.

A special shout out to our good friends Kelly & Jared Jones (since relocated to the east coast) were instrumental in helping us with the learning curve in those first couple of years after we took over.

This list does not even begin to credit the hundreds of individuals who make race day possible. We are so grateful to all the individuals that act as ambassadors for our sport whether volunteering, organizing, or helping at one of our races or one of our competitor’s events, thank you! Thank you for getting out there and helping support and grow triathlon.

Do you get any pre-race jitters before and during races as a race director, or does jumping in the lake and/or smashing a clipboard during your pre-race speeches eliminate any nerves?

The thing that makes my nights sleepless in the days leading up to an event is the thought that someone might get hurt. I breath my first sigh of relief when I see every bike gone out of transition because everyone is out of the water safe and sound. Then the second sigh of relief comes when all the bikes return :) 

The pre-race speech stems from my personal history of being on the receiving end of speeches in locker rooms before swim meets, wrestling matches, and rock climbing competitions. I would have to say my wrestling coaches Rob Brough & Dave VandeVeegaete and climbing mentors Doug Hunter & Greg Loh knew how to get me psyched up! Ready to perform to the best of my athletic ability, help me dig deep and find that place where I wanna want it! 

editor's note: must-watch video! 

My Mom & Dad inspired me to literally go for the gold and supported me in my journey at great personal and financial sacrifice. I know the pre-race speeches might seem silly to some, and even like a waste of the 60 seconds they usually take. For me they are my small tribute to the men and women who coach and inspire others, the speeches are for my mom and dad who sat for hours on hard benches all those years and drove countless miles to get me across the country for national competitions. While you might hear me screaming to “Never give up, Never surrender” … what I am actually saying is thank you mom, thank you dad, thank you Mr Brough, & Mr VandeVeegaete, thank you Doug and Greg! I will always remember you. Thank a coach today! Make a goal, and see you out at the races :)

Main Site:  RaceTri

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