Challenge Roth has a unique Israeli connection that highlights the best of our sport.
March 10, 2017 | NEWS|
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.”
The Challenge Roth CEO was speaking to the group of Israeli competitors who were getting ready to take part at last year's Challenge Roth event - 124 athletes were set to compete in the world's largest full-distance event. This year it looks like there will be 150 in the group. And Roth isn't the only Challenge Family venue they'll be heading to - about 60 have signed up for a unique challenge (pardon the pun) called "TriInvictus" which will offer a special award to any athlete who completes both the Israman and Challenge Venice races this year.
Last year Israel was the fourth most represented country at Challenge Roth. How did that happen?
In 2012 there was just one Israeli finisher 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. Israeli participation in Roth has grown steadily ever since.
Shtern says that Walchshöfer has been a huge help in growing the long distance scene in his country.
“The atmosphere is a big draw, but a lot of it is Felix," he says. "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."
At a time when so many aspects of our lives seem to be getting more insular, it is refreshing to know that triathlon can be a way to break down the barriers. Felix Walchshöfer's efforts don't only show just how passionate he is about Challenge Roth and his determination to make it a special race. It embodies the camaraderie that makes triathlon, and especially a full-distance race, so special. Getting through a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and a 42.2 km run instantly makes you part of a pretty special family. No matter where you're from or where you're racing.
Just ask Ayel Shtern and Felix Walchshöfer.