It’s early—only 3am on a Saturday morning in July. It’s still dark and chilly outside, but volunteers are already gathering on Honeysuckle Beach. It’s race day! In just a few hours, hundreds of athletes will join on the edge of Hayden Lake to participate in the Hayden Triathlon. They will come with goggles, bikes, running shoes and an eagerness to test their training of the last several months. But the work of organizing and preparing for the Hayden Triathlon began long before. Volunteers and members of the Hayden Tri Community Fund have been working for the past 12 months to make this day possible. In fact, the work of these volunteers has been in motion for eight years. What began as a lofty idea to raise a little money for a local school swim team has become a means of serving and benefiting the Hayden community in a big way.
Over the past seven years, the Hayden Tri has generated enough income to donate nearly $100,000 to local charities. The members of the Hayden Tri Community Fund, which organizes this event, are committed to donating all proceeds back into the community. Tony and Tona Koch are two of the founders of the Hayden Tri. It began eight years ago when they were approached by their son’s coaches to help raise money for the Coeur d’Alene High School swim team. The Kochs met with other swim team parents to brainstorm fundraising ideas, and it was suggested they could host a community triathlon to earn money for the team. The Kochs knew this idea was preposterous. The group of parents and coaches voted in favor of the idea, however, and Tony was put in charge. He left the meeting wondering what he and his wife had gotten into. “Knowing the team was broke pulled at my heart strings though,” admits Tony. “Our motivation was the kids,” adds Tona.
The Kochs went to work and quickly realized they were involved with a great group of supporters who were willing to volunteer countless hours to make this fundraiser triathlon happen. But even with this commitment, the first year was fraught with doubts. Obtaining city permits, getting sponsors, considering athlete safety and numberless other details were daunting. In addition, running a triathlon has upfront expenses that make hosting a race a risky venture. By April of the first year, only 50 athletes had registered. Despite these concerns, organizers felt motivated to press forward.
Their first triathlon was enough of a success to support the CHS swim team and encourage the Kochs and other volunteers to continue. The triathlon grew each year and organizers soon realized they had the potential to help more than just the swim team. To this point, triathlon organizers were all CHS swim team parents and coaches associated with the Viking Boosters and Educational Foundation. Wanting freedom to give to more than just school groups, organizers became a 501C3 in 2016 and formed the Hayden Tri Community Fund. This change enabled the Kochs and fellow organizers to give money to any charitable group who needed it and was willing to work a little for it.
Last year alone, the Hayden Tri Community Fund donated $17,000 to charitable organizations in Hayden, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Rathdrum. Their list of benefactors includes athletic clubs, theatre groups, churches, literacy programs, a robotics team, Heritage Health, Backpacks for Kids, and more. By sending volunteers to help for a few hours on race day, these charitable groups can receive up to $1,000 for their organizations. The Kochs admit that the Hayden Tri Community Fund overpays its volunteer groups. But that’s the point. “Groups help and get paid so they can then benefit kids in the community through their programs,” explains Tona. Volunteers depend on donations from the event and eagerly come back each year. Race day brings a feeling of camaraderie amongst volunteers. “We may only see each other once a year at race time, but it’s hugs all around,” she says.
A goal of the Hayden Tri organizers is to model community service. By giving groups the opportunity to get involved in a big community event, they hope to show the young people benefiting from these charities how to care for their community. Already, organizers are seeing a return on this investment. Some time ago, the Kochs received a letter from a former CHS student. He had been a State Champion on the CHS swim team and had gone on to swim at Stanford. Included with his letter was a check for $1,000. This alumnus has continued to donate annually with the explanation that he appreciates what the swim team did for him at that time in his life. Now he wants to pay it forward.
The Hayden Tri Community Fund is a recipient of this year’s Hayden Award, granted by the Hayden Chamber of Commerce. This award honors the Community Fund as being a local nonprofit organization that significantly contributes to the quality of life in Hayden. “We’ve all had a great life here,” Tony explains. “You have to pay that forward.”
Tony credits the success of the Hayden Tri to “community folks who have stuck it out, who have the same vision and who don’t want to get paid for it. You can’t even wrap your head around how many people are involved! It’s a partnership, really,” he says. The organizing committee works year round, local municipalities use their own resources to support the Hayden Tri on race day, and organizers gratefully acknowledge their sponsors. “Our sponsors are our core. Every year I’m amazed by the checks written. They believe in what we’re doing,” says Tony. He and his fellow organizers see these generous donations as a stewardship and responsibility. “They trust us,” he explains. “And they know we’re going to put a lot of thought into how we spend their money in the community.”
Organizers bank on a sell-out capacity of athletes so that the race can be solvent and allow for 100 percent of sponsor money to be given away to local charities. It’s quite a challenge! “Our ability to give so much back to the community is because of our generous sponsors and the athletes that keep showing up,” explains Tony.
As a sprint-length triathlon, the Hayden Tri is a first for many athletes. Those not yet comfortable with the swim portion of the race may opt to join the Red Cap Wave. In this wave, novice triathletes are paired with an expert triathlete or master swimmer as a buddy to swim alongside. This effort is made to encourage a person who may not otherwise enter a triathlon. It’s to enable the novice athlete to accomplish something he or she never dreamed possible. There’s also no time limit at the Hayden Tri. “We want every athlete to have that successful end-of-race experience. We’ll be waiting at the finish line,” promises Tony.
The Hayden Tri is for novice, intermediate and professional athletes. They come to race in a beautiful venue, connect with people and give back to the community. With a ½-mile swim, 20-kilometer bike ride and 5-kilometer run, the Hayden Tri is obviously a rigorous athletic event. But hosting an athletic competition is not the purpose of the Hayden Tri Community Fund. “The triathlon is a fun and healthy activity, but it’s really just a vehicle,” explains Tony. The Hayden Tri exists to raise funds to provide charitable organizations in our community with money.
July 14 is race day this year. Athletes, volunteers and supportive friends and family will eagerly gather on the course to participate and cheer. This day is not only for the athletes but for our whole community. Athletes will cross the finish line having expended all to accomplish their goal. In that moment, feelings of fatigue and sacrifice will be overcome by those of success. The same will be true for those who made this day possible. Race day of the Hayden Tri is a victory for our entire community.