‘My heart was here’: Penticton, BC triathlete reflects on hometown Ironman victory
Jeff Symonds has raced around the world collecting accolades and medals along the way, but at home at this weekend’s Subaru Ironman Canada felt a little different.
“Oh, it’s amazing, to have Ironman back (in Penticton, BC) and just the energy in the city has been amazing,” Symonds said Monday, a day after he crossed the finish line first with a time of 8:38 :03.
Symonds is an old racer. He was the winner of the 2015 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Australia and placed second in 2014 and 2018 at Ironman Canada in Whistler.
There was no pro category for Symonds to race in for this year’s Penticton’s Ironman, so while he came first in the competition technically, he doesn’t benefit financially from the win as he would if he had a race elsewhere won.
He took the course nonetheless, simply saying, “my heart was here.”
“It’s important to me to support my community and make sure this race is great and then inspire the next generation of young athletes,” said Symonds.
“I’ve had a lot of great role models over the years and I wanted to make sure that the kids (who) I coached…and all the kids in Penticton, had the same inspiration as I grew up.”
And, he explained, that’s what Pentictonites, like him, are doing for this competition. They ‘appear’.
“There were spectators everywhere and, you know, this is a tough course. So I think all the athletes just needed all that support and encouragement to get through.”
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Other competitors echoed that sentiment.
In the Age Group race, it was Cory Mayfield of Pasadena, California who came in first with a time of 8:59:15. He said he would come back one day knowing that it is the home of the North American Iron Man.
“It was a great day and the support in the crowd was great,” Mayfield said. “The city is perfect for Ironman. It’s the ideal racing scenario. So hopefully one day we can come back to visit again. ”
But first, he plans to do another race to Arizona and, higher up the agenda, get married.
Jessica Cullen, of Waterloo, Ont., was the top female contender. She took home a win, finishing at 10:08:05. She said the people of Penticton made a difference.
“I’ve never had such public support in a race. I mean, hands down,” she said. “(This is) the best Ironman I’ve ever done. Penticton really puts on a show.”
Cullen said she made Penticton a part of her racing schedule because she likes to support Canadian races first.
“The people are incredible. The volunteers are so wonderful. But I also mean the scenery—I can’t get over it,’ she said. “Like I said, when you’re in those really dark moments, being able to look around and see how amazing everything is, it’s just such an incredible race.”
Subaru Ironman Canada race director Susie Ernsting said she was thrilled with how it all came together.
“The community came out en masse. They cheered athletes everywhere and the feedback from the community and the athletes has been phenomenal,” she said.
In 1983, the first North American Ironman event was born, putting Penticton on the map as one of the world’s premier triathlon host communities and a bucket list destination for Ironman athletes around the world.
It had been out of town for 10 years.
The race is a 226.3-mile journey through Penticton and the surrounding areas that includes a swim in Okanagan Lake, a bike course, and finally a descent to the historic finish line on Lakeshore Drive.
The 2022 Subaru Ironman Canada offered 55 age group qualifying slots for the 2023 VinFast Ironman World Championship® in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.