Friday, October 5, 2007

Ironman’s Amazing Event Director – Diana Bertsch

Photo: Diana Bertsch in her office in Kailua Kona

What attracted Diana Bertsch to the role as the Hawaiian Ironman Event Director as the organization was preparing to make dramatic changes? The challenge.

I caught up with Diana today and she gave me a tour of the Ironman (on island) office.

Diana is an immediately likable person. Attractive, kind, smart and motivated, you can tell she loves what she does. She’s a hard worker and not afraid to tell you what she thinks. When I asked her what she likes to do after the event is over, she commented, “I like to ask my son William what he wants to do after race week, and then use that time to spend more quality time with him.” You can see a sparkle in her eye when she talks about her son (who has not yet caught the triathlon bug).

Photo: Got plans for a pier?

Diana has seen some major changes for sure, and she has personally carried some out through the complicated process of change in a longstanding global brand on an island that loves tradition, even if it’s not the most effective tradition.

In an event that is not easy to change, she's clearly been successful. Some of the changes? Making the race more spectator-friendly at the pier, a different swim exit (if the tide and waves are right) and incorporating the local touch into the event, to name just a few.

Hawaii is a special place, and people talk about the Aloha spirit, the lava and the warmth of the people here, and so it was important for Diana to incorporate more of this warm aloha into the event. Working with a local firm, Island Breeze, the Ironman and the WTC now pick a theme for every Ironman. Last year it was Lokahi – Unity. And the Ironman organization, with its one week balloon swell of volunteers at races around the country, most certainly involves unity. Athletes also need to be operating from a place of unity in their lives to get to the finish line or the starting line of any Ironman.

This year, the theme for the 2007 Ford Ironman Triathlon World Championships is Kupau – Completion. It seems to be a perfect theme, after all, getting into the Ironman is the first completion in a several act show, the last of which is the finish line on Ali'i drive.

There are 7 attributes to the concept of Kupau: Strength, Wisdom, Inspiration, Understanding, Endurance, Knowledge, Authority - each is intricately related to the lives of everyone involved in Ironman. This is the Kapau logo.
For Diana, Kupau has significant meaning. At the conclusion of Ironman week, which actually ends after the Ironman Volunteer party that happens on Monday night after the race, she will have successfully orchestrated one of the worlds most complex, most inspiring and most amazing sporting events. She is sitting on the top of quite an operational orchestra – just think: registration, medical, swim, bike, run, aid stations, transitions, timing, warehouse support, construction, communication, finish line, post race, marshals, security, special events. Welcome to Diana’s world, and she’s on top of things. She has 15 directors who run the divisions, and the volunteer force (army) is 5,000 strong to support the just over 1800 athletes.

When I asked what Diana would like to say to the volunteers and athletes, she replied, “For the volunteers, I am not sure that there are words that can express the gratitude this organization, the athletes and the world of people whose lives have been changed by Ironman feel for the thousands of volunteers every year that change lives. They give themselves, one second at a time during the race week – our hearts feel so much more than a simple ‘thank you’ and even more than ‘aloha.’ The volunteer support is a real gift.”

“For the athletes… I would want them to fondly remember how much they did to get here and that the journey to Ironman is a big part of why this race is so special. Getting to the starting line is a significant achievement, and they should remember that and feel the confidence that just getting here should inspire. The cannon will go off, but so much has taken place before the cannon. Anything can happen on race day – the athletes should enjoy the completion of this day, of this journey.”

And her favorite part of Ironman? The people. “I believe that we are where we are in life to meet and work with people that surround us. I love the people I’ve met and that I work with in this job. Ironman is a great extended family. Ironman has given me many gifts, most of which are the people I’ve met on this journey

Our hat is off to you Diana, good luck this week. This is your day, your race. Thanks for your hard work on behalf of the athletes, volunteers, and the millions of lives around the world that are touched by this event. And, hey, look up - there, that's the finish line, just ahead.

-Mitch Thrower
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