ROANOKE, Va. – The inaugural IRONMAN in Virginia’s Blue Ridge is now behind us and the positive feedback from racers, visitors and community members alike is pouring in.
During the race, activity focused along the course as it snaked throughout the Roanoke Valley. But behind the scenes, a group of people worked to keep athletes, spectators, volunteers and the community at large safe.
The first athlete hit the water at the crack of dawn Sunday unleashing the whirlwind into Carvins Cove. From there they hit their bikes through the mountain roads and then finished on the Roanoke River Greenway. By the end, athletes covered more than 70 miles, crossed five jurisdictions and were under watch the entire way.
Off the course at the Roanoke City E911 center, regional officials huddled together in the unified command center with eyes on video feeds, ears on radios, and open communication flowing between all partners. Botetourt County Fire and EMS Chief Jason Ferguson was one of the leaders in the group as the event covered the most distance within his county as athletes swam in Carvins Cove and then rode their bikes up Route 11 to Buchanan, before climbing up Route 43 and riding the Blue Ridge Parkway back toward Roanoke.
“It truly was the nucleus of the event that was invisible,” Ferguson said. “At the end of the day in the background, we have to make sure that if there is an emergency, a crash or something with the swim that we’re there.”
Drew Wolff is a regional director for IRONMAN and said the commitment from local agencies blew their staff away. He said 30 agencies accounting for hundreds of firefighters, police officers, EMS crews and more managed a moving target as competitors crisscrossed the region. By the time the first police officer was in place at a roadblock to the time the final traffic barricade was loaded, nearly 24 hours had passed.
“Operationally it’s a challenge, but it was just executed so well at so many levels,” Wolff said. “Every event that we have we do have multiple jurisdictions, but here in Roanoke I think we’re at the city, the county, the state and the federal level and that’s somewhat unique.”
Roanoke City had a large impact as well as it was the start and finish of the event, as well as the headquarters for the IRONMAN village. David Guynn is a deputy chief for the department and likened the planning and scope to a presidential visit. He said regional cooperation behind the scenes made all the difference.