Exactly what kind of manpower and resources goes into staging one of sport’s most celebrated traditions? Eleven-year Kona race director Diana Bertsch reports from the trenches.
One the annual race theme
This year’s theme is Mohala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua which means Unfolded by the water are the faces of the flowers. Our themes connect from one year to another, and it’s something we work on internally with our cultural advisor. Flowers thrive where there is water, the way people thrive when nurtured by aloha, pono and mālama (love, righteousness and care). As a new flower unfolds and shows its beauty, we too unfold and evolve, inspiring hope in our journey and our lives. It all focuses on the word “hope”—it’s our willpower and what drives us to achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams. No matter what your journey holds, hope will give you the strength to carry on and evolve. You’ll see the theme posters on Ali’i Drive and we tie it in throughout the week.
On the ultimate juggling act
The focus is race day and making sure we produce an event these athletes that have come worldwide to live a dream and cross the finish line on Ali’i Drive… that it is all that they’ve dreamt of and hoped for. We also put on 15 events outside of race day. Some of the challenge is that you have your most important event—race day—and you want to make sure you’ve done everything you and the team can to meet all the expectations, but along with that you’re juggling events you have every single day. It’s not just one event that you’re focusing on—you have a NBC production, and it’s the most media credentialed event in the state of Hawaii, there’s a number of VIPs—all these other challenges come into play in addition to race day. Nevertheless, each one of those challenges makes it very exciting.
On the race’s evolution
When I came on board, one of the first steps we took was to embrace the fact that we were in Hawaii and to embrace the culture. We started introducing a theme in a subtle way. Operationally, we looked at what changes needed to be made to make it better. We changed the swim exit from the boat ramp to the side that we exit now. We moved our transition areas and we expanded our physically challenged divisions. We’ve added more events with the hope to get the spectators, family and friends—people who are coming to support their athlete—the opportunity to engage in different things and at the event as well. We also increased the field size by about 500. We’re always going to have changes, but if you keep the heart and soul true, those are the most important things.
On her favorite part of the course
It’s probably the finish line—it’s a long day and a long journey, and you hope everyone has an incredible experience and great memories, but when it’s over there’s this ability to take a deep breath.
On race day duties
We have a race operations center and they can give me visibility and input from out on the course. There’s constant transition and setup, and it doesn’t stop all day. I’m always on the pier and in body marking in the morning and then at the sea wall at the start. And I always get out on the run course late at night. There’s a point when you know the train is moving, and you can’t stop it. All you can do is when situations come up you hope you have the answers and, as a team, have the solutions. I’m fortunate to work with a team of volunteer directors that are experienced and love what they do and have a passion and respect for Ironman and each individual out there.
On volunteer support
The reality is if you don’t have the volunteers, you don’t have an event. You can’t put enough emphasis on the critical nature of that support of these people. What’s so amazing about is that they put everything aside—some of them for a week, some of them for a month, some for a year off an on—to make something spectacular and give back to someone else that they don’t even know because they’re so touched by the event. There really is nothing like it. It’s pretty phenomenal to see what people will do and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see that.
On the magic of Kona
The first time I saw the race in 1990, just seeing the start was what sparked me. It changes you. When you see the look on someone’s face as they cross that finish line and that joy that comes across, you see their story—whatever that is—come to life.
Kona By the Numbers
Cups – 291,646
Bike – 53,040 bottles
Run – 6,894 gallons
Bottles of Ironman Perform – 22,380
Ice – 163,920 lbs (82 tons)
Bonk Breaker Bites – 13,800
Chomps – 10,020
Gu packets – 15,408
Sponges – 52,800
Zip ties – 22,000
Barricades – 12,000 feet
Race day volunteers – 5,000+