TriathlonLife: Roth’s Israeli connection

A group of 120 competitors from Israel and South Africa are ready to compete at Challenge Roth tomorrow. TriathlonWorld.com revisits a story we posted last year.

| July 8, 2017 | NEWS

Israeli team in Roth

This year a group of 180 people from Israel and South Africa have come to Challenge Roth to take in the epic race. 120 of those will be racing tomorrow. We learned about the amazing connection between this event and Israel a year ago and posted this story about it:

Felix Walchshöfer can’t stop his eyes from tearing as he says it.

“We all know Germany’s history with Israel – I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have you all here.”

In 2012 there was just one Israeli finisher here at Challenge Roth. That was Eyal Shtern, competing in his second full-distance race. The high-tech executive travels so much his friends joke he lives in terminal 3. After he finished the race he was invited to the volunteer banquet to represent Israel.

“It was a big festival, the dinner for the volunteers,” Shtern remembers. “Felix approached me: ‘This is great, but why are you the only one from Israel?’ I told him that part of the issue was it was so difficult to get into the race, and people were looking at the other brand.”

“How can we change that?” Walchshöfer asked. “What if we can get you secured slots?”

Shtern started making calls during the dinner. Within 48 hours he’d already got 45 people to commit to the race the following year.

“Since then we’ve been growing, except in 2014 when we had a small war in Israel and many people had to cancel,” Shtern says. “Last year we were 60, this year we have 124 registered. Roth is the big name – now we’re trying to bring other Challenge events into the picture for people from Israel, too.”

Shtern says that Walchshöfer has been a huge help in growing the long distance scene in his country.

“This year we have athletes from 14 different groups,” he says. “The atmosphere is a big draw, but a lot of it is Felix. He comes to Israel twice a year to present the event to people, telling them about the event. We’ve opened a Challenge Israel branch to promote the events. This year we have 15 people who are returning. We have a father and a son racing together, husband and a wife, three brothers and one sister.”

The group, which numbers over 300 when you include families, coaches and supporters, have also been raising money for the German branch of the “Make a Wish” foundation.

Israel is the fourth ranked country in terms of participants here at Challenge Roth – behind Germany, the UK and the USA.

Pretty impressive numbers. Even more impressive when you think that it’s all thanks to one invite to a volunteer dinner.

Ayel Shtern and Felix Walchshöfer | Ayel Shtern and Felix Walchshöfer.

Ayel Shtern and Felix Walchshöfer.

Photo >Kevin Mackinnon