published Monday, July 15th, 2013

Wiedmer: Is Ironman triathlon next for Scenic City?

Fifty-two triathlons in 52 weeks. That's the goal of Nashville attorney David Callahan. After Sunday's Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon, he's only got 49 more to go over the next 50 weeks.

"I was in Washington, D.C., last week, I completed one in Knoxville on Saturday and this one today," said the 33-year-old. "I'm pretty tired right now, but it's for a great cause."

That cause is Team Chad, which raises money in the Nashville area to fight leukemia. The organization honors Chad Welch, who lost his fight with the disease in June if 2007.

What makes Callahan's mission all the more remarkable is that he became a father just 12 weeks ago when he his wife Maggie welcomed Lincoln into the world.

"Yes, I have a saint for a wife," he said of his time away from his new son. "They're coming with me as often as possible. They were with me last weekend in Washington, D.C. They just couldn't make it this week. We've bought an RV to make it easier in the future."

Over 1,000 athletes -- some from as far away as New Jersey, Wisconsin and Missouri -- made it to the shores of the Tennessee River on Sunday to participate in the 25th Waterfront Triathlon. The event's early years took place at Chickamauga Dam before moving downtown over the last decade.

The only trouble with this year's event was that the rain-swollen, swift-moving river made the swimming component of the triathlon too dangerous. So organizers changed the format to include a 2-mile run (instead of the 1.5K swim), with the traditional 42K bike ride and 10K run remaining intact.

And all of that was just fine with men's overall winner Craig Evans, who completed the altered layout in 1:51:37.

Asked if voiding the swim robbed him of part of the joy of the course, Evans chuckled, "I didn't get robbed. I won by nearly three minutes [over runner-up Justin Ladner]."

Marietta, Ga.'s, Meghan Dugan was the women's overall winner with a time of 2:01:36.

But to listen to either Evans or Callahan discuss both the quality of the event and the city it's staged in is to begin to believe the rumors that Chattanooga might be on its way to becoming the site of an Ironman triathlon in the near future, possibly in September of 2014.

"It puts more stress on your city," said Callahan. "The courses are all longer. There are more roads to shut down, things like that. But one of the things that already makes Chattanooga so appealing is how gracious everyone is to let us conduct this in the middle of your downtown."

Said Evans, a professional triathlete who lives in Hendersonville, Tenn., "Personally, I don't like the Ironman. It's too long for me. But Chattanooga is already very similar to the Ironman course in Louisville. You have a [Ohio] River swim. A scenic downtown. As long as the commitment is there, you have a great location for it. And the atmosphere in downtown Chattanooga is pretty awesome."

The Waterfront Triathlon's Sherilyn Johnson likes the sound of those endorsements. A Chattanooga Track Club member and the co-chair for the triathlon the past seven years, she says the Waterfront group, "Would strongly support it. We understand that it might be a September date and we believe that some athletes might run in our event in July in order to get a look at the Ironman course."

Or at least a portion of it, since the Ironman competition involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a full marathon run of 26.2 miles.

"The last time I ran an Ironman, it took me 10 hours to finish," said Evans."It's a much different triathlon."

The Waterfront Triathlon stands just fine on its own. But that doesn't mean the city shouldn't strongly pursue an Ironman stop and the estimated 1,500 participants it would bring; if for no other reason than that espoused by new mayor Andy Berke.

Addressing the 1,003 Waterfront participants, their friends and family members gathered at Ross's Landing for the awards ceremony, Berke said: "We hope you'll come back next year...And please spend as much money as possible."

Please, please, indeed.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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