Challenge Penticton is going through a relaunch.
That is how Kevin Cutjar sees it as the City of Penticton transitions ownership of a new five-year licence to he and business partner Michael Brown, owner of the Great White North triathlon in Stony Plain, Alta. Cutjar said he doesn’t want to take anything away from the volunteers who worked it the first two years, adding it was a big undertaking.
“It’s a clean slate for us as far as we’re concerned,” said Cutjar. “We want to maintain the integrity of the basis of overall layout of this race course. Make everything else brand new.”
The City of Penticton officially handed over its Challenge Penticton license to Cutjar and Brown for $300,000, which will be paid over five years. That money, along with the $125,000 received from the provincial government, will go towards paying the debt accumulated from the first two years. Year 1 debt was $377,032, while the debt from this year’s event won’t be known until near Christmas, said Mayor Garry Litke, at an informal press conference Tuesday morning.
Litke is confident that Brown’s and Cutjar’s experience and reputation can help the race grow. Cutjar has two top-10 finishes in the pro male division in 11 Subaru Ironman Canada races and has coached several athletes, including the back-to-back Challenge winner Jeff Symonds.
“It’s going to provide a huge economic spinoff with the city of Penticton and the South Okanagan,” said Litke. “It’s going to be an even better race than what we saw on Sunday, which was already pretty awesome. It was a great race, so well run.”
Cutjar has a vision for Challenge Penticton. He would like to see a week of endurance events for athletes before the race and a festival to create a new vibe with entertainment, possibly an athlete’s village and tweaking the course and finish line area.
“Have a more party atmosphere to bring more of the community to the event,” said Cutjar, adding he likes the idea of having a bouncy castle and climbing walls similar to the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan cycling event, to draw families. “You would not want to miss the last week of August in Penticton.”
Cutjar would also like to get sponsors to help with prize money to attract top athletes. He talked about using his connections, triathletes he competed against who are now coaches in the sport to lure pro athletes to Penticton. He said coaches like that have influence on 20 to 30 people.
Brown, who resides near Edmonton, loves Penticton and competed in Challenge Penticton last year. He believed in the race before the opportunity for them to purchase the license came up.
“I’m really optimistic,” said Brown, who is self-employed. “People always say to us, ‘How are you going to get it back to where Ironman was?’ That’s not our ceiling. That’s not how we look at this. We want to go past that. We want to make this the Challenge Roth of North America. We want to make it a North American championship. We want this to be the race that everyone can’t get into and wants to come do.”
Brown added he knows it is not going to be easy, but added they need everyone in the community believing in it.
“Whether I’m from Edmonton or I’m from Mars, we are all in this together,” he said. “I think we can change it.”
“I want to get people thinking Penticton again,” said Cutjar, adding that he wants to sell the community as a great place to train. “Over time this race will come back.”