Categorized | Featured, Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: Bertsch marks a decade as race director

Diana Bertsch (Photo courtesy of Ironman)

Kendra Mahon | Ironman

In 1990, a pair of newlyweds went on a honeymoon to Kailua-Kona. Their trip happened to coincide with a popular sporting event held each year on the island and the couple was set to fly back to California on the day of the competition.

With some time before their flight, they went down to the seawall of Kailua Bay to check out the start. As they watched the mass of people enter the water, the woman was especially moved.

She looked to her husband and said, “One day, I want to do this.” That woman was Diana Bertsch, current race director of the Ironman World Championship.

Embarking on her 10th event as director, Bertsch has been on quite a journey to get to where she is today. In 1992, two years after her initial introduction to Ironman, Bertsch got the opportunity to permanently move to Kona when her husband’s business relocated.

Wasting no time in getting involved, Bertsch signed up to be a volunteer for that year’s world championship race.

Volunteering at an aid station, Bertsch got her first glimpse at everything that goes into putting on the biggest event of the Ironman season.

“My experience volunteering for the race is what gives me my continued inspiration,” she says. “It’s not just the inspiration of seeing these athletes fulfill their dreams, but it’s working with all of these incredible volunteers that put everything aside to help others accomplish their goals.”

Each year, more than 5,000 people volunteer their time to the Ironman World Championship – and this isn’t a one day affair. Volunteers dedicate their time throughout the entire season to ensure each aspect of the race is ready, come race day.

“Every year I’m more astonished at the level that they’ll rise to in order to make all this happen at the highest level of excellence,” Bertsch says.

She continued to volunteer for four years and, in 1995, raced the infamous course herself.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says. “There really is nothing like running down Alii Drive and crossing the finish line. It’s almost surreal as you turn that last corner and take it in.”

Her voice has transitions between perspectives, going from inspired on-looker, to volunteer, then athlete.

“I’m grateful I had that opportunity because it gives me an understanding, in my current role, as to what the athletes are going through to reach their goals,” she says.

“Having a taste of that has allowed me to put things in perspective and see things from a different viewpoint over the years. It has indelibly motivated me to produce the best triathlon event I can, so that as many athletes from around the world can fulfill their dreams, just as I was able to fulfill mine.”

Bertsch was offered the position of assistant to the race director in 1997, a role she thrived in for three years. After taking a brief departure from Ironman in 2000, she was asked to come back in 2003 as director.

“I was honored to have been offered the position,” she says. “I was overwhelmed with a wide range of emotions from excitement to fear.”

The position of Kona race director isn’t just a job for Bertsch. Over the years, it has become an integral part of her life and transformed her as a person.

“When I came on board here, I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what this event truly was,” she says. “I don’t think I understood how much this role would consume my life. It gets into your blood and soul and it affects you.”

The volunteers are especially inspiring, she says.

“Working primarily with volunteers in this setting, you are able to realize – on a level I never imagined possible – what people are willing to do for others,” she says. “We lose that sometimes with humanity; we lose sight of how critical it is to give for others. What this community will do, simply because they choose to, is absolutely phenomenal. That has been such an eye-opener for me – what people will do for Ironman.”

The Ironman World Championship boasts an amazing group of dedicated volunteers, some that have been committed to this event for over 30 years.

“I am a better person today after doing this job because I’ve learned to appreciate what people give and appreciate who they are,” Bertsch says. “I believe Ironman has a soul and that it was created in Hawaii.”

It is, however, a symbiotic relationship.

“Ironman has given and taught me so many things,” Bertsch says. “My job can be overwhelming and incredibly stressful, because you want people to walk away after race day and say, ‘That’s a day I will never ever forget.’ You want them to have the most amazing memories possible. There’s a lot of pressure there. But, at the end of the day, when you see those people cross the finish line and listen to their stories, it was all worth it.”

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One Response to “Ironman: Bertsch marks a decade as race director”

  1. Clay T says:

    One of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known.


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