Dispatch: Homestay Hospitality At Challenge Roth

Serving as a homestay is a popular volunteer role in Roth, Germany.

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This week Holly Bennett will be reporting daily on the traditions, culture, course and festivities that surround the Challenge Roth triathlon.

The gastfreundschaft (hospitality) flows as openly as the beer in Bavaria, a fact poignantly proven via the local families that open their doors as homestays to a number of the athletes competing in Challenge Roth. Here it’s not just the pros that benefit from the comfort, convenience and insider info of local hosts–all told 1,500 athletes enjoy the homestay experience.  As my host family put it, Roth is a triathlon town and every single spare bed is filled during Challenge week.

Serving as a homestay is a popular volunteer role in Roth, with hosts often requesting athletes from specific countries in order to practice languages they wish to master. A homestay is certainly the best method to experience the core culture of Roth, and to bond in a unique and oftentimes lasting way with “family” far from home. And let’s face it–where else, when hanging clothes in a guest bedroom closet, would your wardrobe share space with several pair of authentic lederhosen? I was fortunate last year on my first visit to Roth to be welcomed by a very special family, Family Waitz. I was invited to stay with them again this year (apparently I’m a well-behaved guest), and jumped at the chance. Here’s a bit about my warm and wonderful German family:

Willy, the father, is hands down the hardest working man I’ve ever met. Each morning Willy rises at 2:30 a.m. to tackle his first job, delivering heating oil. Home by noon, Willy grabs a quick lunch and then pursues his true passion, an entrepreneurial landscaping business tending to yards and gardens throughout the town. In the evening, Willy returns home to spend the remaining daylight working on his own backyard landscaping project–which I’m happy to report has progressed significantly in the past year–then enjoys family dinner and a beer or two before retiring to bed. While Willy and I share only a few words of language in common, we developed an immediate bond when we first met as he coached me in the proper way to pour various beers.

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Verena, the mother, and I became fast friends. Thanks to her basic English (and despite my meager German), we’re able to chat up a semi-understandable storm, eagerly looking up words that elude us in either of our dictionaries. In the mornings, prior to pedaling to work as an orthopedic surgeon’s assistant, Verena lays out an elaborate spread of fresh bread, cereal, yogurt and fruit–or whatever else I might request–for breakfast. At night, as she knows I prefer a vegetarian diet, she prepares home-cooked meals specifically suited to my taste. Although Verena always refuses my offers of help, I sneak into the kitchen every chance I get to tidy up!

Last year on Saturday before the race–rather than stick to the sofa out of sheer fatigue from their week’s work–Willy and Verena took me on a several hour mountain bike tour around Rothsee, the town’s stunning lake, along with a stop to spectate bike check-in and another to enjoy dinner at a favorite local pub. On the ride home, Verena commented on Willy’s increased speed as we attempted to keep pace: “Going home, he is always like a horse.” I laughed with understanding–Willy smelled the barn on the way back. These two are certainly fit from their active lifestyle–Willy was even able to lug my entire collection of luggage up the stairs in a single armful! This year I won’t be doing the Saturday Rothsee ride as I’ll be resting my legs in preparation for Sunday’s race, but I arrived early enough to enjoy two evenings of down time with Willy and Verena–highlighted again by home cooked meals eaten in the garden and a glass or two of delicious wine.

Willy and Verena’s son Michael is a policeman-in-training in Eichstätt, 60-km from Roth. Similar to last year he’ll come home for race weekend, along with two of his colleagues, Ulf and Niclas. All police personnel and firefighters within range of Roth are required to work on race day, except for those competing; thus these three form a relay team, aptly named “Police Academy.” In 2014 they’ll have to rethink their team name, however–on the Monday following this year’s race they’ll take their final practical exam and then graduate to become full-fledged officers.

Michael’s older sister Christine, an up and coming pro triathlete and a marketing professional in the endurance industry, lives three blocks from her parents’ house. Christine is my lifeline both before and during my trip to Roth, as her impeccable English allows us to email in advance regarding any details and she often stops by (after initially scooping me up at the airport) to provide translation during my entertaining attempts to communicate with the rest of the family. She’s also a talented artist and designed the etching on the sliding glass door entryway to her parents’ house–a stylized swimmer, cyclist and runner, of course.

There are many things that I love about Roth for many different reasons–the race itself and the remarkable venue, the expert organization and energy of the Challenge Family staff, the quaint culture of the town, the carb-addict’s endless fix of bread and beer (which I am trying my best to refrain from until after race day, given my newly adopted gluten free diet), the spectacular public swim facility and the softly padded trails that meander through the forest seemingly forever–but the thing I cherish most is the time spent with my newfound German family.

RELATED: Breakfast With Bob From Roth

If you plan on racing Challenge Roth, contact the race organizers as early as possible to inquire about a homestay. Remember, over 5,000 athletes in total compete annually in Roth, so although the beds are abundant they do fill fast.

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