Here’s the Hand & Stone Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon, a race in its second year and already an Oscar candidate. It’s limited to the first 1,500 who sign up, and it sold out both last year and for the 2nd edition held last week. [Images below: Michael Collins]
This kind of event isn’t supposed to be a hit at the box office. Pool triathlons aren’t what the cool people do, right? For that matter, triathlon as a popular activity is on the decline, so I hear. How come there were lines around the block to enter this thing?
Triathlons are like Western movies (two things for which I have a great affinity). Consider the history of Westerns. Westerns had their moment, in the teens and 1920s, but began to wane and were considered passé by the last 30s. Their time had passed, until the great move year of 1939 when they stormed back with Union Pacific, Dodge City and, of course, Stagecoach.
So much for the death of an experience that speaks to universal themes! Westerns celebrate the benefit of hard, honest work; prevailing over adversity; discovering the hero inside you; enjoying the camaraderie of those of a like mind. Sound familiar?
Behind the camera of this event is Delmo Sports. Stephen Del Monte is our John Ford, and this production hit the big screen only 6 months after it began, in his brain, as a thought experiment.
A well-made Western will put a smile on your face. Well, on my face. I can recognize an expertly-produced triathlon because, when I get the photos of the race, all the competitors are like these pictured here: smiles as shiny as a new set of spurs.
Triathlon’s popularity waned in the 1990s, only to come storming back. Just like the Western. After the Western’s second run its popularity was largely exhausted. By the mid-60s the Western was considered passé. Only to see its popularity return in the mid 70s and 80s, with Clint Eastwood’s Westerns and one of my favorites: Silverado.
Triathlon’s obituary keeps getting written too, just like the Western. And then in gallops a race like this one, which just goes to show you: Universal themes and archetypes resonate with any audience, generation, genre or nationality (Magnificent 7 was a remake of The Seven Samurai).
Of course you need a gang. A posse. Here’s the Mullica Hill Triathlon Club, an all-women’s tri club in Northern New Jersey and whether in Triathlon or Westerns (The Over the Hill Gang) it helps if there’s a Hill in there somewhere.
Cowboys and cowgirls start not knowing which end of the horse the hay goes in. The thing about the Mullica Hill gang, they love newbies. Everyone who joins the Mullica Hill Tri Club is assigned a mentor. (There's a big lesson here!) This is one reason why that club has grown so fast and is so successful.
A lot of people gave Stephen grief over the idea of a pool swim, with the swim first, and 1,500 people in it. "Imagine a rodeo, or a stampede!" they said. But it's gone off like a well-oiled prairie schooner both years. Delmo Sports is now the instant expert in this format.
Clint Eastwood revived the Western a second time, with Unforgiven, and there’s been a pretty steady stream of successful and well-made Westerns since. Hollywood has finally stopped trying to put a fork in the thing, and at some point folks will stop eulogizing Triathlon.
It’s hard to throw a lasso around what makes a Triathlon successful, that I’ll admit. I think it’s just like running a cattle ranch. Saddles are involved. Always best not to get bucked off your steed. If the bikes are placed in transition the day before, somebody’s got to keep watch on the herd. Maybe we need a singing cowboy to keep the bikes happy all night long.
For consumer, race organizers and everyone else with a stake in triathlon race organizer, this is what success looks like. In a couple of days I’m going to write about another race, where a Slowtwitcher not in this business, with his own business to run, decided to take matters into his own hands, put on his own race, and we'll consider whether that race was also a success.
Yippy I O Ki Ay.