Thursday, May 23, 2013

Breaking the Language Barrier

I had the opportunity this past weekend to help out my good friend and fellow race director, JJ Johnson,  at the Honolulu Triathlon. 

JJ runs a tight ship and I would expect nothing less from an ex-Army officer!  The concept of "a laid back Hawaiian" is not a term in JJ's vocabulary.  He also has something to deal with that not many of us on the mainland have to consider.  Almost two thirds of the participants who attend his race are hosted by the owner of the Honolulu Tri - Athlonia, a Japanese company, and do not speak English.  That means that everything has to be in two languages and all the briefings are in both languages.  JJ had an awesome Japanese interpreter, Shoko, to help with briefings, announcing and rewards but out "in the trenches" at the swim start, finish line or in transition it was a different story.
JJ Giving Pre-Race Briefing

For those of us working the race it meant we were frequently asked directions or questions in very rudimentary English or in Japanese, or with sign language.  It could be challenging, frustrating or  rewarding depending on how the questions were asked and answered.  We all resorted to a lot of hand signals and sign language for directions and communications.   Think about this - getting people in the correct swim waves using your fingers and sign language to display age for the age group starts, explaining where bike numbers were located in transition,  how to find medical or first aid, how to get back into transition, where is lost and found, and all of the other questions that race directors and volunteers get on a regular basis.  Thankfully, there were also Japanese speaking volunteers for the really hard questions. 

Despite the language barriers, one thing really stuck out - a triathlete is the same regardless of the language.  We all come to a race with certain expectations, we have a common objective, and we have a short-hand way of talking that breaches any language barriers: where do I put my race number,  where is my wrist band,  how do I get body marked, where is the swim start, how do I get my timing chip, and will you please take my picture because this is my first race and I finished, and the best of all...what a cool finisher medal!

The Honolulu Triathlon Finish Line - waiting for the first finisher

A couple of years ago JJ and I formed a "sister race" relationship between our Santa Cruz Tri and the Honolulu Tri.  The first year we did discounts to each others' races.  This year we stepped it up and did a drawing for a free entry exchange that included air fare and two nights of hotel for one lucky triathlete. 

It was a great experience and I am so glad I got to experience it, that Ruthie Callahan got to do her first Honolulu Tri and that we will be hosing Kerri Scott from Honolulu at our Santa Cruz Tri in August.  

So stay tuned...because we are definitely going to do this again next year and JJ will be at Tri Santa Cruz to award next year's free race entry for the Honolulu Tri to one lucky Tri Santa Cruz participant. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why we do this....

Each year in January for the past seven years I’ve made the trek to Colorado Springs for the USA Triathlon Race Director Symposium.  Over the years I’ve probably met close to a thousand race directors and several hundred coaches involved with Triathlon and every possible combination of multisport events imaginable.  Most race directors also produce runs and swims in addition to triathlon, and at well over 95% of them have been active athletes at some point in their life. 

Recently I’ve also been teaching race director certification classes for USAT.  I’ve seen brand new race directors putting on their very first event and experienced veterans seeking additional knowledge and updates.  A couple of months ago someone asked at a class “Why do you do this?”

I’ve been captivated with this question,  and puzzled that many people didn't have a good answer. It made me reflect on why I decided to start Finish Line Productions and what it really means to me.

We never set out to do huge races.  We never set out to get rich (that almost never happens in this business!).  We pick venues that support a reasonable amount of athletes without being cramped.  I’ve done races where what was comfortable for 500 was packed to the brim with twice that many bikes and gear.  Personally, I don’t think that is a quality experience for anyone – organizers or athletes.  The one question that always gets asked of our staff is “Would you like to do this race?”  If the answer is no the race never gets off the drawing board.

We want to keep them smaller, more intimate, and personal.  Everyone who works on our crew has also been a participant, likes people, likes to help and wants to be part of the experience right along with the athlete.  I personally like to get to know names and hear experiences.  

Over the years I’ve met some wonderful athletes, made some great friends, and really enjoy seeing them grow as athletes.  Some have come to work for us at events, which is really great because they get to see the other side of the equation.

It takes a village to put on an event – from the organizing and planning to the final execution on race day.   When race day rolls around the ultimate goal has to be the safety of the athletes and a great experience. 

Bill Burke, one of the best in the business and owner of of Premier Event Management said “It’s gotta be personal.  If it’s not, get out of the business.”

For me it's always been personal and fulfilling. There is really nothing greater than seeing everyone, from the first finisher to the very last finisher cross that finish line.  Rest assured, our finish line stays in place until that last finisher crosses the line!  They’ve all made the journey and we'll be there to meet them!

 Tell us why you compete, what's important and what you like!

See you at the races.