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With the highly anticipated announcement of Challenge Atlantic City, slated for June 29, 2014, the Challenge Family event series makes its first steps into the U.S. market. I was fortunate to be on hand for the announcement and have an opportunity to explore aspects of the course that will showcase the “real Jersey Shore”—an area of underrated natural beauty and seaside communities ready and eager to come together to host the area’s first long-course triathlon event.
At Wednesday’s press conference introducing the race, local dignitaries from Atlantic City packed the room along with the dynamic duo of event directors Robert “Vigo” Vigorito (of Columbia Triathlon and Ironman 70.3 Eagleman fame) and Stephen Del Monte (whose DelMoSports’ Atlantic City International Triathlon enjoyed its third running last weekend). Also on hand were legendary triathlete Mark Allen—six-time Ironman World Champion and the Challenge Family’s Official Online Training Partner—and Peter Henning, the 16-time Emmy award-winning television producer widely known for his programs delivering the heart and soul of triathlon to homes around the globe.
Del Monte was first to take the microphone, lauding Atlantic City’s ideal proximity to a major population base. “We’re within a tank of gas of 75 million people,” he said, suggesting the ease with which east coast athletes will travel to the event. “Challenge is all about community,” he continued, “and the Jersey Shore is a collection of close-knit communities up and down the coast.” Del Monte is confident in drawing from these communities as well as directly from within Atlantic City to fulfill the event’s volunteer roster, given the large number of active lifestyle individuals and clubs that have already pledged their support and that have helped make the DelMoSports event series an ongoing success.
By way of introduction of his partner in the Challenge Atlantic City venture, a man with a long-standing reputation in the industry for his deeply caring demeanor and impeccably executed races, Del Monte said, “If there’s a Mount Rushmore in triathlon, Robert Vigorito is right in the middle. He’s Lincoln. If you are producing an event this is the guy you want.”
Vigorito chimed in, echoing his partner’s excitement for the upcoming race:
“It’s not just swim, bike and run to us—it’s swim, bike, run, community, wellness and charity. This is not just a triathlon, it’s a chance to introduce an iconic American beachside community to the world, and a chance to invest in children in this area to introduce them to this sport and lifestyle.”
John Palmieri, Executive Director of Atlantic City’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, took the stage and expressed his enthusiasm for the international sporting event. “It’s time to re-imagine Atlantic City,” he said. “We want to be the host not for ordinary events but for extraordinary events. We’re excited to support not just a recognizable event but an exceptional event.”
Mayor Lorenzo Langford was equally welcoming to the Challenge Family. “I think this event and the city of Atlantic City are perfect together,” he said. “This will give us the opportunity to show the world what we have to offer here. We have the opportunity and challenge–if I may borrow the word–to live up to what is expected of us. We’re going to make sure that we rise to that challenge such that this race will become an annual event and continue here forever. We believe in you and we thank you for believing in us and giving us the opportunity to do this together.”
Visibly moved by the welcome was Challenge Family CEO Felix Walchshöfer, finally facing the realization of a long-time dream of bringing the Challenge experience to the United States. “I had goose bumps driving into Atlantic City yesterday!” he exclaimed. Walchshöfer continued, “For us it is vital to work with the community, so that people are proud of their event. We have a five-year agreement in place, and we will work over the next few years to build up a festival week to create the same sort of cultural activities and celebrations that we’re known for in Bavaria during Challenge Roth.”
Mark Allen encouraged residents and visitors to Atlantic City to open their hearts to the phenomenon that is long-course triathlon. “The first year some people might think, ‘What is that thing?’” he said. “But once they see people racing all day and especially late into the night with that kind of determination, they’re going to be inspired!” He also pledged his attendance at the inaugural event, saying, “Count me in. I won’t be racing, but I’ll be here.”
The fast and flat course design aims to showcase an iconic slice of Americana along with the natural beauty of the area, providing athletes a particularly energizing experience as they run along the crowd-packed beach boardwalk. Competitors will enjoy a single transition zone in historic Bader Field–the nation’s first airport–with a wetsuit legal two-loop swim in the protected waters of Atlantic City’s back bay, the brackish water a semi-buoyant blend of fresh water from the bay and salt water from the ocean.
The speedy cycling leg will send athletes along the Atlantic City Expressway, a super-smooth toll road closed for the occasion and bordered by a forest of greenery, before peeling off (at exit #28, to be exact) into the quaint town of Hammonton. Known as the blueberry capital of the world, Hammonton will simultaneously host the town’s annual blueberry festival and tourists and locals alike will delight in cheering for cyclists through the idyllic downtown. The bike course then continues through the rural Pinelands along serene tree-shaded country roads before returning to the Expressway for a second loop.
The two-loop run will take place primarily along the forgiving slat-wood surface of the historic beach boardwalk, newly refurbished following the destruction of Superstorm Sandy. Runners will also tackle a single long hill, traversing the Brigantine Bridge to nearby Brigantine Island before ultimately returning to the boardwalk and the finish located directly in front of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Organizers aim to create a finish line celebration to rival that of the Challenge Family’s flagship event, Challenge Roth.
A beachfront kickoff party is in the works to welcome athletes to Atlantic City during race week, where they’ll also enjoy a centrally located expo and registration area, a wide range of restaurant and lodging options, the Challenge Family’s well-loved relay division and a plethora of activities for the entire family.
I enjoyed an early morning run along the boardwalk prior to the press conference and was pleasantly surprised at the feel of the slat-wood beneath my feet. Dare I say that running a marathon along that same stretch–enhanced by the summer sea breeze, the temperate June weather and the warmth of the Challenge Family race crew, deep-digging fellow athletes and encouraging crowds–might even feel comfortable? I’m certainly excited to find out and have committed Challenge Atlantic City to my calendar as my “A” race for the 2014 season. Anyone wishing to join me should register promptly on Friday morning (general registration opens at 9:00 a.m. EDT at Challengeatlanticcity.com), as the first-year event will cap entries at 1500 individuals and 100 relay teams.