It was three years ago that three co-workers and I sat around our Des Moines apartment watching an ITU race and dreaming up what the perfect youth triathlon series would look like. The races we were producing at the time, as part of the Hy-Vee IronKids Triathlon Series, had a specific luster to them. The more we traveled the country producing events, the more unique we realized this specific energy was. Our events were loud and untamed. They had a kinetic, visceral energy that caused kids to dig deeper and parents to dance rather than hide behind their phones and cameras. We knew how to describe it, but not what to call it. That afternoon we landed on RipRoar. We define RipRoar as a verb. The figurative action we hope to inspire in our athletes to “Rip” themselves open and unleash their wild, “Roar,” onto the world (Picture Clark Kent with his “S” beneath his button up).
A year ago this week we discovered that the Hy-Vee Kids Triathlon Series which we had worked to produce over the past years would no longer continue in the competitive youth triathlon space leaving youth in the Midwest with very few options to race. Given the short timeline and the lack of sponsors RipRoar was much less an opportunity and much more a need. In a matter of months we developed a brand, built a website, ordered a trailer full of production equipment and permitted races. The result was a series of four youth-specific races covering Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Our first event had just over 100 athletes. By the end of the 2015 summer season we were hosting 300 athletes for final event of the year in Des Moines.
Without any large sponsors our events became community owned. Individual donations and hours of volunteering from the communities that hosted us and the families and friends of the athletes allowed us to grow beyond our expectations. When we closed the doors on the trailer following our final event we had everything needed to produce the best day of summer for hundreds of youth around the Midwest.
On Dec. 28 I arrived to the trailer, kept behind a friend’s business, to discover an empty parking space with only fresh snow where the trailer once stood. The trailer was kept out of sight, with a hitch lock and security cameras, which is to say it took the better part of an hour for me to move theft to the top of the list of possibilities. It wasn’t until we watched the footage on the security camera that it really hit me. At 10 p.m. the previous night a black Ford F-150 cut the hitch lock and drove away on snow covered roads taking a total of less than three minutes for these thieves to drive away with those same materials that gave so many kids their best day of summer just four months prior.
We alerted the police, the RipRoar triathlon community and the media in hopes of recovering the trailer. It wasn’t until calling the insurance company that I realized the extent of our loss. The original value of the trailer and contents, roughly $10,000, was covered. Everything above that was not. In a year filled with lessons learned the hard way, this one would be the “hardest.”
After crossing the two week mark the police and insurance company told us our trailer had a small chance of returning and we would be better off starting the process of rebuilding. We knew the members of our local youth triathlon community wanted to help so we did our best to streamline the process. We opened a crowd-funding campaign and posted a video highlighting the importance of our project. There were no expectations.
It took less than two minutes to get our first contribution notification. “The Droge Family has donated $100.00.” What followed was an overwhelming show of support for the sport, the passion and the continuation of our project going forward.
To put it in perspective, in our first year we produced an entire series with less than $5,000 in sponsorship and donations. After the second day of our “Rebuilding” campaign we had raised $20,000. It was a whirlwind. Athletes chose to donate their allowances and offered to build us new award podiums. Triathletes across the Midwest sent in donations or words of encouragement. Past co-workers from IRONMAN and Life Time and some of the largest events across the country donated. (Editor’s note: The USA Triathlon Foundation also made a donation in support of RipRoar.) After a week, thanks to an unbelievable community, we had raised enough money to repurchase every piece of equipment that had been stolen less than a month earlier.
We believe so whole-heartedly in the sport of youth triathlon because it teaches lessons that appear to be harder and harder to come by. Through the completion of safe but challenging courses youth are strengthening their character and developing resolve. By creating exciting finish lines we are addicting kids to accomplishing great feats and celebrating tenacity and not just talent. In a time when too many kids are forced to specialize, or excluded from other sports based on athletic prowess, the power of youth triathlon is much greater than just bringing future adult athletes to our sport.
The generosity of so many connected to our series and our sport has allowed us to continue forward into 2016 and expand our series to seven events. As a community we’ve built something great. But we’re just getting started.
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