After blessing the Lakeshore with beautiful weather this past week, the entire West Michigan area had to batten down the hatches during Friday morning’s severe thunderstorm that featured wind gusts of up to 103 mph.
While many people are left picking up the debris in the storm’s wake and waiting to regain power in their homes, one particular weekend event is officially down for the count.
Due to damage sustained on the bike paths and running course, the 2017 Mercy Health Grand Haven Triathlon has been canceled.
“I received several phone calls early this morning from friends of mine that live in the Harbor Drive area, and they told me that it was just a war zone over there,” said event director Ron Knoll. “A lot of people are already drawing comparisons to the 1998 wind storms we had in the area that did a lot of damage, as well.”
Between cleaning up streets for vehicular traffic and doing everything within their power to clean up other debris, the Ottawa County Road Commission will not be able to clear the bike paths that were expected to be used during Sunday’s races.
“The Road Commission really embraces this event, and they had already power-broomed the bike path for 26 miles and set up blacktop wedges to smooth over some rough spots on the course,” added Knoll. “The Ottawa County Road Commission is very proactive to ensure clean roads and safe conditions for our athletes. Due to the storm, the Road Commission is in an all hands on deck mode. With that status, they are scrambling to simply get debris off the road to ensure immediate safe vehicular traffic.
“That being said, we've been informed, as much as they'd like, there is no way they can remove the large debris and power-broom the smaller debris. I asked if we could put a team together and do it ourselves. The answer was no. If we would get hurt or cause damage, there would be serious liability issues. As a former liability and risk management specialist for more than 30 years, I understood.”
Some triathlon participants were testing their luck with the course’s current status Friday morning, which made Knoll realize just how unsafe the course was.
“While I was surveying the damage and debris on the bike course, I saw two triathletes riding the bike course,” he said. “I noticed they had to swing out of the bike lane, into the road a couple times to avoid debris while there was oncoming vehicular traffic. With 350 athletes on the course, this presents an extremely dangerous situation for our participants. In addition to this exposure, there is also the threat of a standing or kicked up branch or twig getting caught in one's spokes and putting an individual or group down. There is also a possibility of slipping on loose leaves and pine needles.
“Personally, as a triathlete myself, it is gut wrenching to make this decision. However, there is just no way to ensure athlete safety due to the storm and resulting conditions.”
Rescheduling the event would have proven to be a bigger challenge than trying to clear the course in time for Sunday, according to Knoll.
“There’s just so many other triathlon events going on over the summer, so you have to try and schedule your event around other events,” he said. “There was only one other big triathlon event this weekend and that’s in Interlochen. So, we can’t just pick another weekend to run the event, because people might be committed to other events.
“Also, there’s so many other events going on in the summer around Grand Haven that the city has to prepare for. If we tried to put the event on during the Coast Guard Festival, it would be a logistical nightmare. It’s tough, because we’d love nothing more than to plan for a weekend in the future, but between athletes, organizers and volunteers, it’s a lot of moving parts.”
The hardest part of the cancellation for Knoll is having everyone’s efforts prove to be for naught.
“It's our heartfelt desire to do anything and everything possible to make sure the participating athletes are able to race,” he added. “Everything is bought and paid for and ready to use. All of our coordinators put their time and heart into this event to ensure everyone had a fun and safe event. The City of Grand Haven, Township of Grand Haven, Department of Public Safety, Ottawa County Sheriff (Marine and Road Divisions), Grand Haven State Park, County Road Commission, YMCA, Department of Public Works, all of our sponsors and more than 200 volunteers always strive to make sure this event functions smoothly for the athletes.
“It’s just a punch in the gut that to have to cancel this event. It’s a situation that is unfortunately out of our control at this point in time, and we have to make sure we make the participants’ safety is our first priority.”
Knoll said the industry standard states that no refunds can be given upon cancellation, but he is planning to give all returning athletes a substantial discount for next year’s event.