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Ironman Waco bringing international crowd to town

Posted: 11/30/2021

Christopher Tech, a software design engineer from Dayton, Ohio, arrived in Waco on Wednesday and made a beeline to Ironman Village at Indian Spring Park. He will join the mostly buff thousands registered to swim, bike and run this weekend, giving the local economy an energy boost.

Tech said he and his family are visiting Texas for the first time. They are staying in a hotel near Waco’s traffic circle, well away from Ironman’s nerve center at University Parks Drive and Washington Avenue. One might say his choice in room accommodations suggests Ironman is spreading the wealth.

“We’re excited. We always turn these races into little vacations,” said Tech, whose familial entourage plans trips to the Dr Pepper Museum, Waco Mammoth National Monument and, of course, Magnolia Market at the Silos.

The Tech squad inquired about good places to eat, both downtown and beyond, specifically interested in tacos, a Texas thing, and pizza because Tech follows a carb-consuming routine leading up to race day.

The ripped are making their presence felt at dining and entertainment venues dotting the inner city. A family wearing Ironman gear strolled across the Washington Avenue bridge Thursday morning. A participant who parked near the Waco Convention Center was painstakingly removing her bike from a vehicle’s interior. Crowds gathered under tents at Ironman Village, where competitors signed in, collected swag bags and browsed Ironman-branded merchandise, much featuring a red-and-black color scheme and including T-shirts, caps, goggles, backpacks, hoodies and swimwear.

“We are super excited to see Ironman back in Waco,” said Justin Edwards, who oversees operations at the Waco Hilton and Courtyard by Marriott downtown. “We started receiving bookings a year ago when we opened our inventory. This event is unique because it brings travelers from all over the United States, and the majority stay three or more nights.

“We are booked, and have been for months,” Edwards said.

“The only rooms you are going to find in Waco this weekend are from the few who had to cancel,” Edwards said in an email. “Kudos to all involved that work so hard to keep this event in Waco each year. University Parks Drive being blocked is an awesome sight to see. We have been ready to welcome back all the events that took place pre-COVID, both big and small.”

Susan Morton, tourism director for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, reminded that Waco is hosting two Ironman events this weekend: Ironman Waco on Saturday, a first for the city, and an Ironman 70.3 covering about half the distance Sunday. Morton said the events will attract athletes from around the world, Ironman staff and fans, generating revenue for hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.

About 3,300 athletes have registered to participate in Ironman 70.3, while 900 have signed up for the full Ironman Waco triathlon. They will be traveling from 47 states and 32 countries, regions and territories.

“Traditionally those athletes bring 2-plus people with them to race,” Ironman stated in an email response to questions. It said a host venue such as Waco “could see approximately $13 million of economic impact in the region.”

Guy Boutilier, who oversees operations at Cricket’s Grill and Draft House downtown, said people affiliated with Ironman are beginning to surface there. Cricket’s already has gained a reputation for attracting sizable crowds on weekends, but Boutilier’s not concerned about accommodating everyone.

“We have capacity for about 500 people. Yeah, we have the room,” he said with a laugh.

He said he routinely chats with customers, asking where they’re from, and from this interaction knows Ironman people are in Waco.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, known for its lively patio crowds overlooking University Parks Drive, is bracing for an Ironman-inspired onslaught, manager Megan Biddle said. She is familiar with downtown trends and crowd pleasers, having served in her capacity at Fuzzy’s for five years now.

Destinee Woods, who oversees Pivovar, the new Czech-themed brewery, restaurant, bar and boutique hotel on South Eighth Street, confirmed the street-level dining establishment has quietly opened. She said she welcomes Ironman patrons this weekend, and has spoken with two competitors who booked rooms.

She said 24 of Pivovar’s 28 rooms are filled, leaving four premium queen rooms priced at $450 per night available this weekend as of Thursday.

“This is a huge undertaking, attracting a lot of attention. I’ve been meeting people from Israel, from Canada, all over, and cousins and parents of competitors,” said Mike Vogelaar, president of the Greater Waco Sports Commission. “Volunteers have done an incredible job, but we need more, especially Saturday night, if people want to sign up online.”