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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Pandemic forces 36th Winterlude Triathlon to go virtual

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

The start of the 30th Annual Winterlude Triathlon at Dow’s Lake, Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Photo: Steve Kingsman

By Martin Cleary

In its 35-year history, the Winterlude Triathlon has faced a number of wintery obstacles for its skaters, skiers and runners. Every time, organizers adjusted, adapted and the show moved forward. But not for 2021.

The sweeping presence of the COVID-19 pandemic forced race director Rick Hellard to cancel one of the oldest events of next month’s Winterlude. But he rebounded, offering multi-sport athletes a virtual version with four intriguing options.

The 2021 Winterlude Triathlon Challenge will allow participants to pick and choose the date, the course and the time they want to skate, ski and run, as long as it is between Feb. 5-20, the actual Winterlude dates.

“The biggest reason for the cancellation is because of the uncertainty of public health rules. Every couple of days there are new suggestions,” said Hellard, who also wanted to avoid crowds on the Rideau Canal Skateway start and on the pre-race shuttle buses.


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Mooney’s Bay, the race site for cross-country skiing and the third and final leg of the Winterlude Triathlon Challenge, also is closed to recreational activities. And with current high positive COVID-19 test results, it’s uncertain when it will reopen.


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But in its place, Hellard has developed four interesting options. Registration is $65 for the 7.8-kilometre skate, 5 km run and 6 km ski winter triathlon. Participants completing the challenge will receive a medal and finish certificate.

Unlike previous years, finishing times will not be compiled into an official results list. That’s a downer for competitive athletes, but participants can pick the best weather conditions to create the best scenarios for their three races.

“This is total simplicity. We’re trying to be safe,” said Hellard, also owner of Zone3sports and ROC Swimming.

The first option is called the Original. Athletes can start their skate under the Laurier Street Bridge and finish 7.8 km later at Hartwell Locks. They also can run 5 km along the Queen Elizabeth Driveway and ski 6 km anywhere.

The Local option opens the Winterlude Triathlon Challenge to anyone in Canada as long as he or she can skate, run and ski the required distances. They pick their own course and day of competition.

The Double is exactly what it sounds like. Participants, including Hellard, will skate 15km, run 10km and ski 12km.

If you can’t ski and/or skate, try the Substitute option, where participants can snowshoe and/or cycle using a fat-tire bike.

Athletes can register at raceroster.com. Hellard has heard a group from Norway may enter. Former Norwegian Ambassador to Canada Anne Kari Ovind (2016-20) has raced the triathlon three times and twice was a top-3 finisher in the women’s 50-54 class.

The 2020 Winterlude Triathlon was one of the last mass-start athletic competitions staged in Ottawa before the arrival of the pandemic in March, which triggered a variety of public health shutdowns and restrictions.

After three straight years of being the overall runner-up, Dave McMahon of Chelsea won the men’s race in 2020, while Ottawa’s Katherine Maine (a professional cyclist during warmer months) captured the women’s title for the second straight year.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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