Colleen Bausman, president of Tri-California and the race director for Wildflower, believes that what can seem like the world’s loneliest sport is becoming a group activity. And Wildflower, known as the “Woodstock of Triathlon” is well positioned as a leader in cultivating the community dynamic in triathlon.
Bausman is excited for Wildflower’s 34th anniversary, especially in a year when race executives already know the problematic California water levels are going to be good enough to keep the swim portion intact.“We already have the water to the level that we know can do the race,” Bausman said, and lake levels traditionally rise as the race draws closer. The only question now is whether the race will have an abbreviated swim or a full swim, but it will definitely have a swim.
One thing that doesn’t depend on water levels is the small city that is created on the spot for race weekend, four hours from San Francisco and four hours from Los Angeles.A full weekend festival of triathlon, from sprint to full iron distance, includes camping and RVing for many participants. Vacation rentals are available as well. Whether “camping” means a diesel rig with two bathrooms and a fireplace, or a canvas tent in the grass, the result is a community of triathletes gathered together.“It allows people from all over California to congregate in the middle of nowhere and disconnect from everything else,” Bausman said.
Wildflower is one of the top three triathlons in the world, she said, known as a major collegiate race for students and a major travel race for vacationing triathletes.“It’s one of the hardest long courses out there,” she said. “It’s kind of a badge of honor. You’re going to go home proud that you’ve done it.”
Despite that fact, it’s been Wildflower’s mission to take the intimidation factor out of racing. Wildflower’s leadership is working on such new ideas as allowing athletes to choose their rack space ahead of time, so they can be near a friend or family member during the nerve-wracking pre-race moments. Currently the swim start is by age division, but in the future there may be accommodations for athletes who want to start together as a club or family.“Because the sport does represent so much of a lifestyle in general, when you are surrounded by other people who are doing it, you are more likely to stay in it,” she said. “It becomes something you’re doing as much for the people you get to be around.”
Bausman says if athletes were to peek behind the scenes, they would realize the race company is practically running a small city for that weekend.The venue is 45 minutes from any city, so running out of supplies is not an option. Transportation, particularly busing, is a big consideration, as well as the setup of the grounds and the scheduling of activities, stage entertainment and workshops, and the transition area. “When they show up, it just seems like it’s always existed there,” says Bausman, and she likes it that way.“For us, the racer experience is so key. We don’t want it to look like it was a stretch – it should all feel easy.”About 800 volunteers make the event possible, including 600 from the local college. Bausman says just to feed and entertain that large of a group of volunteers requires a team of staff dedicated to it.“What goes into these races is realizing that the experience of what they are getting out of the whole weekend is more than just a race,” Bausman says. “We want every athlete to walk away with a memory. And then we want them to come back again and again.”Bausman says triathlon clubs, relays and a choice of distances at a race venue are all things that help bring triathletes together.“Every athlete at the start line has a story to tell. It’s really neat that our sport can bring all those stories together to be at my start line,” Bausman said.“We’re still in it for changing lives.”
Editor at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.