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Swimming portion of Ironman triathlon canceled due to flooding

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Posted at 2:13 PM, Oct 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-27 11:40:39-04

The first Ironman 70.3 triathlon ever held in Waco is expected to draw 13,000 people to the city, giving a boost to the economy in the area.  

On Saturday, the triathlon canceled the swimming portion of the triathlon due to flooding in the area. 

On Sunday, athletes are expected to cover 70.3 miles doing running and biking. 

Some of the athletes competing area from Waco, including Meredith Sutton. The Baylor University dance teacher who teaches in the theater department said she had completed three full Ironman triathlons before.

The 45-year-old decided to do a half ironman in part because it took place in Waco.

"You have to participate in your backyard. This is our home,” Sutton said.

The mother of four also added the excitement that the race brings to her and her family. She recalls one of her children encouraged her to continue competing.

“He said ‘I like it because we get to hang out with our family while you are racing. I like it because I like your Ironman friends and I like it because I get to see you be so strong,’” Sutton said.

35-year-old Woodway Resident Lee Boyd is looking forward to participating in his first Ironman event.

“My birthday is next week and I decided what a great to end the year of 35 with a half Ironman,” Boyd said.

The vicepresident of product innovation at 470 Claims Management said he also wants to set an example for his children.

"For me a big reason of doing triathlons is to show my kids an active lifestyle,” Boyd said.

The event is also attracting locals and people from 46 states, including Texas.

Professional Triathlete Natasha Van der Merwe who is originally from South Africa but has lived in Austin for the past 17 years ago said she is excited to participate.

"That small town feeling with everything being so close makes it really fun to do." Van der Merwe said.

The 37-year-old who is the Director of Team Programs at Bicycle World, the title sponsor of the event, expects eleven of her family members to come to Waco to watch her compete.

"I'm really excited they get to experience what our passion is,” Van der Merwe said.

City officials said most of the hotels are sold out ahead of the triathlon on Sunday. 

La Quinta Inn and Suites, which recently opened, still had rooms available on Friday night.

"We've seen just in the last three days since we've been opened, a 30 percent sale in our rooms’ inventory this weekend,” La Quinta Inn & Suites Joshua Pursche said. "It speaks a lot for the impact the event has brought to Waco."

Greater Waco Commission Executive Director Will Phipps said his group has been working on bringing the event to Waco since Feb. 2017. The triathlon was held in Austin in the past.

“Not only are we bringing thousands of people this weekend. They will train over on the routes year round so we will get a spillover effect from the tourism. It puts us on the national stage,” Phipps said.

Organizers did minor changes to the bike route due to flooding.

In regards to cancelling the swimming portion, Ironman released a statement: 

IRONMAN has strict swim safety benchmarks in place that have been surpassed, including the rate of water flow. The abundance of rain created additional flow with a rate higher than the limit deemed safe for swimming in the Brazos River.

Before Saturday's announcement, officials were checking on the water quality and flow rate of the Brazos River to determine if it was safe to swim. 

"We are monitoring it. Safety is utmost concern. We don't want anyone to be injured but if we can give people a chance to swim, we are going to do that,” Phipps said.

On Friday, the three participants Central Texas News Now interviewed said they trusted officials would make the right decision. 

"I don't want to be thrown in the situation that's dangerous whether it is harmful bacteria or harmful conditions,” Sutton said.

Before the decision was announced, Boyd said he wouldn’t be disappointed if the swim portion didn’t happen.

"If we do the swim in this kind of river, the speed of the water and the debris of the water would make me very nervous,” Boyd said.

Even though officials canceled the swimming portion, participants will still be considered triathletes. 

The race will award a professional prize purse of $25,000 and 30 qualifying spots for the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in France.

Participants will be informed of race day procedures for the new bike-run event during the briefings in Indian Spring Park.  

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