Cancellations these days all seem to have the new coronavirus to blame.
Not Tri-The-Kenai Triathlon.
In February, Tony Oliver, event director, announced on the event website that Tri-The-Kenai will be closing down permanently.
“If I would have waited a couple weeks I could have made it the pandemic’s fault,” Oliver said.
In an ironic twist, the new coronavirus may have given Tri-The-Kenai more of a chance to live. The 10th running of the event this year would have been June 14, but pretty much all participatory sporting events of Tri-The-Kenai’s size have been canceled through that date. At its biggest, Tri-The-Kenai had more than 200 triathletes and 100 volunteers drawn from all over Southcentral Alaska.
With the year of reprieve, Oliver said that gives more time for somebody, including himself, to gather the energy to put together the event again.
“If anyone is interested in keeping the saga going, they are welcome to contact me,” Oliver said. “If somebody out there is interested in putting on the event in the same fashion, I’d be willing to help.”
Oliver said that someone could even be himself.
“That’s not to say I won’t get a wild hair,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t have said it was going away forever on the website.”
Oliver said he actually had secured funding to run the race in 2020, but has since returned those funds.
“As I kind of geared things up, I looked at doing it, but my heart wasn’t in it, at least as far as being race director,” he said.
Tri-The-Kenai is based at Skyview Middle School. Tsalteshi Trails is used for the run, the roads around Skyview are used for the bike and Skyview’s pool hosts the swim.
Oliver said triathlons can be run pretty cheaply, but if Tri-The-Kenai continues he’d like to keep making it a special event with things like lots of swag.
“It’s more than a triathlon,” Oliver said. “We tried to make it a classy event with food wagons and bouncy houses. We tried to soup it up a little, and people seemed to appreciate that.”
Oliver said most years, Tri-The-Kenai gave at least $1,000 to a local charity. In 2014, the Funny River Horse Trail Fire forced the event to September, when there were no other triathlons, and the surge of racers meant Hospice of the Central Peninsula got $2,550.
Tri-The-Kenai also would give the Tsalteshi Trails Association at least $500 per year.
Putting on such an event takes a lot of time, though. Oliver, who retired in March 2019, said he did 90% of the work and it typically took him six to eight weeks. In the last month, he would throw as much time as he had at the event.
Oliver said that this was even with a great group of volunteers.
“I have no resentment about doing all that work,” Oliver said. “I kind of enjoyed it. It was cool to organize it and see everything work out. I’d always cross my fingers. Nobody was ever run over or drowned.”
Since closing down Tri-The-Kenai, Oliver said he has gotten a number of supportive messages on the website and Facebook, so he hopes the energy is there to revive the event.
“It was nice to have one in our community,” he said. “I never heard anybody say they had a bad experience. Most of the comments over the years have been positive and I’ve heard a lot of people say it was their favorite event.”