When the COVID pandemic forced the cancellation of races worldwide, many triathletes turned to virtual racing and do-it-yourself challenges. Though these could be satisfying in their own way, triathletes and race directors Ian Hall and Andre Schunk missed the electricity of being in the triathlon community. For months, they searched for ways to create a COVID-safe race. At first, their intent was simply to put on a small, socially distanced sprint race to give local triathletes in Trumbull, Connecticut a touchstone of normalcy. But as they created new event protocols for COVID, they found opportunities to redefine the race day experience and create something even better.
“We had been following the return to endurance sports in our professional and personal lives throughout COVID,” said Hall. “We had this desire to salvage the canceled triathlon season for our local racing friends. In the process, we created what we firmly believe is the most personalized race in which any triathlete has ever competed.”
The inaugural BoFish Triathlon, which was held in September 2020, focused on strict COVID safety protocols, like a small field (30 racers), masks, personal transition “pods” spaced ten feet apart, and swim starts 30 seconds apart. As they checked the boxes for safety, Hall and Schunk found opportunities to experiment with race-day features they had always wanted to try. To fill the time in between swim starts, each athlete had a previously selected walk-up song to start their race. A videographer filmed footage to create a sizzle reel of the day, and for an extra fee athletes could have their very own personal highlight reel. The race course was lined with personalized race signs based on answers athletes gave during a pre-race survey, and the volunteers outnumbered the athletes.
The small-but-mighty event was a hit, and BoFish volunteers immediately began planning an encore event for spring of 2021. This time, they were thinking even bigger—not only in terms of athlete size but community impact.
“We committed to expanding the reach of our event beyond the field of racers to include support for the Cardinal Shehan Center in Bridgeport,” said Hall. “It’s a local non-profit organization for area youth. The center’s mission is to enrich lives by providing a variety of programs and activities that address the educational, recreational, cultural, and social needs of moderate and low-income families and young people.”
Normally, races simply fundraise for a cause or organization and write a check after the event. But volunteers and participants wanted to go one step further, expanding the personal touch of the race to its philanthropy. Leading up to the spring 2021 BoFish triathlon, volunteers hosted four mentoring events at the Shehan Center, which taught youth the basics of triathlon. The culmination was a miniature indoor triathlon. Youth were also invited to be a part of the race day on May 22, 2021 in various ways, from participating in a relay team to setting up cheer squads at aid stations. Shehan Center youth also created the personalized signs that lined the race course.
“Triathlon is a sport that lacks diversity, and we hope these events contribute to slowly changing that reality,” said Hall. “Our goal is to have the Shehan Center kids compete in the BoFish Triathlon in five to seven years.”
The race is already planning its 2022 event, with new features to make it even more special for athletes and volunteers. More training events with Shehan Center are also in the works. “People are so happy to get back to racing, and we’re so happy to create a fun and inviting event for everyone, from newbies to elite age groupers. We look forward to the Sheehan Center kids’ interest in a new sport and their future participation.”