COEUR d'ALENE — The Ironman Foundation will give $80,000 in grant funding this year to deserving organizations in Coeur d'Alene.
That funding brings the total amount given to community organizations to $715,000 since the Ironman triathlons first began in the Lake City 14 years ago.
"It's incredibly important for us at Ironman to give back to the communities where we host our events in order to build a positive, lasting legacy that lingers long after the last athlete has crossed our finish line," said Christine Perkins, Ironman Foundation community relations manager.
Grant funds are generated by the foundation — established by the World Triathlon Corp. as a way to give back to communities around the world that play host to Ironman races — through the athletes themselves and then distributed to local nonprofits and volunteer groups. Groups like high school basketball teams are also able to volunteer at the race to earn some of the funding generated each year.
"It's just one more reason to say 'Thank you,'" said Steve Wilson, president of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce. "It's one more positive attribute, in addition to the economic revenue generated, that we need to look at when we assess the event."
On average, Wilson said, the chamber, with the help of community partners, pays approximately $80,000 a year to the World Triathlon Corp. to host Ironman races in Coeur d'Alene. Wilson compared the funds paid to WTC to more traditional marketing other communities pay for to promote tourism and their local economies.
"But, here's an opportunity to spend roughly the same amount of money as you would for, let's just say an ad in Sunset Magazine, and you're guaranteed to get 2,500 people to show up for four or five days," Wilson added. "That's a pretty good return on our investment and we near get our contribution back every year (through the foundation grants)."
Zach Ukich, Ironman Coeur d'Alene race director, told The Press when Ironman races sell out, the WTC offers "foundation spots," which cost double the amount of a traditional entry. The extra funds generated from those entries, he said, all go into a specific fund set up for Coeur d'Alene.
"That's what each individual race can give back from," Ukich said. "We pick local nonprofits that have a good story and are doing good things in the community — those are the kinds of things we look for to help out with."
The foundation, Perkins said, works with city officials and other community partners to identify worthy projects in the area, and then invites those organizations to apply to the grant program.
Perkins added the foundation is still in the process of finalizing which organizations will receive grant funding this year. But she added one of the biggest recipients of grant funding from the foundation has been the Salvation Army Kroc Center.
For each of the past seven years, Perkins said the foundation has donated $10,000 toward the center's program that teaches third-grade students how to swim in an effort to reduce the number of childhood drowning deaths in the region.
"We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to support so many deserving organizations within the Coeur d’Alene region that have remarkable missions across various causes," Perkins added.
Ukich, a Coeur d'Alene native, told The Press he had to take off his race director hat to talk about the impact the foundation has had, and the importance of its work.
"It's always a great thing to give back to your community," Ukich said. "The community supports the race in such a great way and Ironman feels it's important to support the community in return."
Ironman volunteers Rachel Maughan, left, and Karen Lam prepare to adorn Ironman finishers such as Brad Williams, right, with a medal for finishing the triathlon on Sunday, June 26, 2016.