Cook: Ironmen and the Iron Bowl

Cook: Ironmen and the Iron Bowl

December 13th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Bob Doak, head of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, introduced the guest speaker from Ironman at Tuesday's Rotary Club of Chattanooga lunch by making football jokes. Doak is a Florida State fan, a fact that will become apparent all too quickly.

"How do you get an Auburn grad off your front porch?" Doak said, warming up.

Pause.

"You pay him for the pizza," Doak finished.

(Oh my.)

The other day, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn bumped into Bama's Nick Saban. Malzahn asked him a question.

"I've got something to run by you. Got a second?" Doak said.

(Stop. Please stop.)

Did you know they've added a new time zone?

"Eastern Saban Time," Doak said. "You add one second to the clock."

It was a tough crowd -- someone later shouted "War damn Eagle!" to fill the silence as a PowerPoint loaded. After Doak sat down, Steve Meckfessel, director of global relations for Ironman, stood up and spoke for a half hour about Ironman Chattanooga, the premier triathlon that's coming to our city in 289 days.

Don't worry. We'll come back to the Auburn jokes.

• The economic impact from Ironman Chattanooga should bring $40 million over the next five years to our city, not unlike a bowl game.

• Nearly 3,000 triathletes from all over the world have signed up. Their average age is 39. Most are Type-A males with an average household income of $200,000 a year.

• To host the event, we beat out three other cities: Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach and Asheville.

• Chattanooga now joins an elite club of 13 other North American cities with Ironman races, including Lake Placid, Whistler, Cozumel and Boulder, or, as many of us like to call it, the Chattanooga of the West.

• The race sold out in three minutes, a pace Meckfessel said was "unheard of." Locally, many racers were angry after Active.com froze in the middle of their online registration; they weren't able to sign up.

"The rightful ones got in the race ... based on their time stamps," he said.

• The race course begins at Kenco Logistics. Swimmers race 2.4 miles to Ross's Landing, and then bike through Walker County for 112 miles, then run a 26.2-mile marathon through downtown.

"There is no other event on the planet as complex as an Ironman," Meckfessel said.

(Clearly, he has not tried to remove the Casey barge.)

Wooed here by multiple factors like our waterfront, scenery and cooperative leaders, Ironman officials were also rewarded with roughly $250,000 each year in incentives, Doak said.

I asked Meckfessel if Ironman would consider a long-term relationship with our city.

"The goal is to be here another 35 years," he said.

Outstanding. The race should add an even brighter hue to our city's image, bringing in ultra-fit racers from all over America and the world who will spend a week or so in our city. We may not be able to see it clearly just yet, but the presence of this race will alter Chattanooga in profound ways.

"This is really an outdoor city," Meckfessel said.

Hold it right there.

Doak opened the lunch by telling jokes about football, the one sport that's purt-near sacred in the South. Name a dozen of the best SEC athletes from the past three years. Name the worst loss of UT's season. Name your own favorite Bama joke.

Now name one professional triathlete.

Doak's jokes weren't just funny, they were telling. Our automatic default is football and other traditional sports. Here in the South, it's in our blood.

But something transformative is happening in Chattanooga, kind of like someone sneaking in and replacing your favorite floor rug while you sleep. We are the leading city on the East Coast that's making the shift from traditional team sports (like football) to outdoor sports -- activities in the woods and rivers, not on the gridiron.

"Head of the Hooch. USA Cycling National Championships," Doak began.

Rock climbing, The Block, and the Triple Crown of Bouldering. River Rocks. Trail races, from 5k to 100 miles. The U.S. Masters Swimming Open Water National Championships in May 2014. The growing legacy of stand-up paddleboarder Ben Friberg. All the unheralded weekend warriors (you know who you are).

Sure, football isn't going anywhere. But old-school sports have got some new company these days.

And you're not getting them off the front porch.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.