16 Sep 2020

Volunteering & Giving:

IronTate Recap, Or what happens when IRONMAN gets canceled during COVID

Johanna Elsemore with IronTate and friends in the background, September 7, 2020. Photo courtesy of Johanna Elsemore.

Reader and Capitol Hill resident Johanna Elsemore recently wrote in with an incredible story of iron-like endurance, cleverness and the help and support of friends and neighbors on and off the Hill. Elsemore’s husband, Courtney Tate, had been training hard for the IRONMAN Maryland race, which was supposed to take place on September 19. The race was canceled back in July, but after a good year of training, practicing and keeping in incredible shape, Tate decided he wanted to go ahead and create his own race, dubbing it IronTate. Johanna, who was a former Hill scheduler, handled the challenge like a pro, setting up stations and having masks for the volunteers printed with “IronTate” on them. I’ll let Johanna tell it in her own words (lightly edited for clarity):

“Courtney would tell you that he’s an optimist and an engineer: This was his dream and he was determined to find a way to make it happen. He branded it IronTate and he decided he wanted to make it a fundraiser for the CDC.
My biggest concern was safety. I was not too keen on him swimming in most of the open water around here without a lifeguard. You also simply can’t exercise for 14 hours without a significant amount of hydration and nutrition, especially in the heat we’ve had here. We got lucky with the solution to the swim piece: He reached out to WaveOne, who does open water swimming in National Harbor, and they agreed to kick things off an hour early and give him his own kayaker… Wave One sets up buoys at National Harbor every week during the summer and has lifeguards on duty in kayaks. Since we were starting early, they had an extra lifeguard on duty. They don’t swim right along with you but there are a few out there keeping a close eye on all the swimmers. I swam on Sunday myself and it felt super safe!” 

Courtney Tate hydrating in front of Nationals Park. Photo courtesy of Johanna Elsemore

“The volunteer piece was a little more difficult to organize, because we needed people all day and for them to be as far out as Poolesville( Maryland), plus we really didn’t know exactly how to estimate his times. Luckily, we have really amazing friends who were extremely invested in seeing him achieve this. I also had to consider safety. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m a former Hill scheduler and used to launch GOTV canvasses, so logistics and coordinating volunteers is kind of my thing. 
We didn’t need any permits: We actually moved the finish line from Washington Monument to make it more accessible and easier logistically. Though the park does close at 10 p.m. and he was cutting it close by the time he finished!” 

Just to give you all an idea of how complex (and how far!) IronTate was, here are just a couple of maps Johanna sent along:

One of the bike segments of the triathlon, which goes all the way to Poolesville, MD. For reference, that’s a bumpy hour-long ride in your car. Yeah. Now imagine it by bike.
The swim and run component, which happened last and around the neighborhood. Beast.

But the reward was sweet: “It’s hard to compare his time because he wasn’t on a set race course so he had to stop at lights, etc. And because friends and family were his race volunteers… he stopped at every single aid station to take a selfie. But he says he wouldn’t change a thing, and in fact when he does finally make it to an official IronMan race, it will be pretty hard for it to compete with the IronTate experience.”

Big congratulations to Tate, whom you can follow on Instagram at @tatertotsarehot, but especially to Johanna and her organizational skills (@JohannaElsemore). What a fun way to combine your talents, passion and endurance, and make it something meaningful and giving while you’re at it. By the way, it looks like you can still donate to the effort. Click here to donate to the CDC on behalf of the #IronTate2020 team.

Courtney Tate running across the Yards bridge with a bike escort. Photo by Dan Beahn, courtesy of Johanna Elsemore.

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