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If you follow this column you’re well aware that I’ve developed a fondness and fascination for Asia and for exploring the highlights that endurance race travel to the region has to offer. So when I received an invitation to cover the inaugural Challenge Philippines race I accepted without hesitation. I’ll be posting “Dispatch” updates from beautiful Subic Bay throughout the week, and to kick off the coverage I had a chat with the driving force behind the event, Dave Voth, Chairman of Challenge Philippines. Voth was happy to discuss his own significant history in the sport and some of the unique aspects of the new race, a half iron-distance adventure which debuts on Feb. 22.
Triathlete.com: You have quite a history in the sport of triathlon–both as a competitor, having raced in Kona multiple times in the 80s and 90s, and then continuing on as the president of Ironman and a founder of World Triathlon Corporation. But more recently you’ve been involved in other sports and sporting organizations, including rugby, the NFL and the NBA. What drew you back to your roots in triathlon?
Voth: The truth of it is that I love the sport of triathlon, and even during my times creating new properties with the NFL and NBA I always longed to be back in the sport I loved so much.
I no longer compete because of a serious injury (I had two hip replacements after a training accident), so now I am honored to put on events where athletes can compete and have fun, too. A long race or a short one, the sport will test you. It’s like life–you can succeed, even in trying times, but you must commit to the effort. There are no half ways. Success in the face of adversity must be the mantra.
Although I swam in college my first couple of years, I fell in love with the sport of rugby. I had the honor to play rugby at many levels including being a part of the national players pool of USA Rugby. It was my life and it led me to build many wonderful relationships, but after I retired from rugby I was lost, not knowing what to do. My mom sent me an article on this crazy event in Hawaii and said the sport was made for me! The rest is history. I raced like crazy for two years and found myself in Kona one morning at the pier. It was race day and, like I said, there are no half ways! When I founded WTC, one of my joys was being able to travel around the world and compete at our different races. Triathlon is truly an international family.
Triathlete.com: How would you describe your role in the Challenge Philippines race?
Voth: As Chairman of Challenge Philippines my role is to work with my team to guide, oversee and direct the event so that participants have the best race experience of their lives!
With over 30 years of experience in the event and sports business industry I still get excited about race day. I love to see a plan come together and a passionate team work with one focus–to deliver the best outcomes and celebrate the day!
Triathlete.com: What inspired you to create a Challenge Family race in particular?
Voth: If I look at what inspired me in the early days, it was the vision and opportunity to connect with fellow participants, embracing the communities and sponsors, celebrating with the volunteers and living and sharing the best race experiences with the triathlon family. Without all of this, I probably would not be back in the sport.
I can say this–as I have been around the sport and have seen it develop, Challenge Family is a throw back to the earlier days of being authentic and passionate. It’s not the numbers game I see with other triathlon events and brands. Challenge really is about the athletes, their families, the communities and a focus on delivering the best possible experience. It is the commitment, the passion and love that drive Challenge Family.
Triathlete.com: As an American living in Asia for nearly two decades, you obviously have an affinity for the culture and lifestyle. What is it about the Philippines specifically that you find special?
Voth: No question–it is the spirit of the Philippine people. It’s a never say die attitude, and there’s always a hand extended to welcome you, like family. The Southern Philippines recently experienced one of the worst typhoons in recorded history. The government did its best, but what inspired me was the rally of common people to support their neighbors and friends, their “Pinoy Family”. The Philippines and Challenge Family is a perfect match of core values. The thousands of locals along our race course may have never seen a biker or runner whiz by before, but I know they will cheer and greet everyone like family, celebrating a great day together.
Triathlete.com: What are a few unique aspects of your race and venue that athletes can look forward to?
Voth: I believe we have one of the most beautiful courses in the world. The Philippines is a place of natural raw beauty and our signature course celebrates this. Our racecourse, never raced before, weaves together a swim in clear tropical pristine water, a bike along the coastline with beautiful vistas–and hills too, so it will test you all the way–and a shaded run, in a triple canopy jungle forest on paved roads and tribal trails. It is truly world class and I am certain that it will become a classic must-do on the global triathlon calendar. But most of all it is the warmth of the people cheering you on that will get you, make you fall in love and bring you back year after year!