Santa Barbara Triathlon Returns for 40th Anniversary
Elizabeth Rodrigues understands the angst of what amateur athletes around the world have felt for the past 18 months — particularly those who would partake in a triathlon that tests every aspect of an athlete’s will.
Working out in the garage just isn’t the same.
So, forgive her if she’s a bit energetic about the return of the Santa Barbara Triathlon on August 28. The race has been a fixture of summers at East Beach, attracting crowds and well-wishers as participants brave the Pacific Ocean, a long run, and a bike ride that provides a mesmerizing view of Santa Barbara.
Alongside her husband, Gerry, she has taken over as the race’s owner and director, leaving her to play the role of marketer, event organizer, and political handler — all to make sure that August 28 can happen.
We caught up with Rodrigues, a prior participant in the race, just as she cut the event down to one, action-packed day:
Q. What did it take to get to this point? What obstacles did you face?
A. Oh my gosh, it’s very reticent to use this expression because I am a stepparent, but I suspect this is what giving birth is like. It’s been a lot of stops and starts. It’s been a lot of emotional ups and downs, you know, “We’re going; we’re not going; we’re going; we’re not going.” The City and the County have driven a lot of the process in terms of the permits. When we came into the new year, we have all lived this life, so we all know what the world looked like in January and February. And that’s a difficult timeline to start planning the race, with registration opening at the same time permit process begins. And, at that point, we had a very low degree of confidence that we need to be racing.
Why not take a chance and start registering anyways?
You know the temperament in the athletes’ space, the feeling that they’ve been burned signing up for races, and so we made the conscious decision to wait to open registration. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I was taking money when I had no confidence we were having a race.
When did things turn the corner toward a race being planned?
In early April, when Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation opened for permits. That gave us some relief and helped us really think we were going to have a live event — everything was starting to look brighter with COVID numbers going down, while vaccine rates were going up. So, we made a video to the athletes and told them: Here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to open registration. We have a high degree of confidence we are racing, but we’re not certain yet, we don’t know what this world is going to look like as we come out of this pandemic. We know that there’s going to be restrictions on how many people we can put in the race, there were just too many uncertainties, so we said, “If you sign up for the race now, we’re going to keep fixed pricing, all year we’re not going to increase the price.” Usually, (the price increases) as you get closer to the race which is typical pricing model.
What if the plug has to be pulled?
We told them, if they wanted to wait and be more certain, you’re not going to get penalized (financially), but if you sign up now, I’m going to share the risk with you. And if the City or the County say we’re a no go, I’ll refund you.
How much do you pay attention to current COVID news?
Every day, every single day. Whether it’s just the local news or the national news. Yes, I’m a little bit alarmed by the Delta variant and by the increased cases. If there are restrictions placed on us by the City or County, of course we’re going to comply. Because the safety of the athletes and the community is of course paramount. And I do hope, whether it’s in Santa Barbara or anywhere else, that the unvaccinated population during this time with this variant, is smart and responsible and caring enough to wear a mask, so that they don’t affect the rest of the community.
It was a rough year for athletes, do you think registering for a race brings hope?
It’s really an extraordinary feeling. I’ve been up at (Nite Moves) and I wish I could take the feeling from the beach and bottle it up and sell it. It is just it’s such a mix of emotion: it’s relief, it’s joy, it’s excitement. It’s exhaustion at the end of a mile swim in a cold ocean. It’s elation of being able to not only see people but hug them. It’s a sense of safety that has come back over this community.
Do you feel a bit of extra pressure to make sure the triathlon is organized perfectly?
When you layer in the sense of joy, safety, and excitement that people are getting back to doing what they loved and missed, this just amps up this event to another level. I also feel though that it amps up a sense of responsibility in me to deliver on that. That this is what’s driving a lot of people to come back out.
For more information on the Santa Barbara Triathlon, visit santabarbaratriathlon.com.