UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) – When Boilermaker officials started planning their 2020 race season, they never would have predicted that just a few months later, the world would be in lockdown.
But even the Coronavirus pandemic could not completely stop the races from happening in both 2020 and 2021, they just looked a bit different.
Prior to this year’s race, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the President of the Boilermaker, Mark Donovan, and Race Director, Jim Stasaitis.
Mark explained that in 2020, they had an early registration launch, in anticipation of a big registration turnout, but what would come of this decision was something they never could have planned for.
“We launched on January 1st for the first time ever, so we had several thousand people registered on January 1, 2020 – and by 4 PM on March 13th our county was shut down and all our lives changed,” said Donovan.
“So, for our side, at that point in time, we had over 11,000 people registered for an event that was going to be in July, and obviously, people stopped registering,” he explained, “So it became pretty clear that holding a mass event would not be prudent, and certainly not in July.”
And unfortunately, he was right. What Mark and Jim would soon learn is that this virus was not yet going away, and definitely not by July of 2020.
“We’re ever the optimists, so we actually first pushed it out to September from an in-person perspective with the idea that if this counter-narrative has any truth to it, maybe we could pull this off,” said Donovan.
“A key thing for people to understand is that by the time we launch, we’ve already made a lot of purchases for the event – so we had everything we needed to hold the race, and we were hopeful that come September things would get better.”
But unfortunately, that was not the case, and the race would need to again be postponed.
And when this happened, some swore they would never return to the Boilermaker Race – leading officials to come up with an alternate plan.
A virtual race that would instead take place in September – allowing even more people from around the world to participate in the 9.3-mile event.
“And they sent us pictures, it was wonderful,” said Donovan, “Amidst all that there was, you know, a lot of dark days here.”
He continued, “But you know, you see pictures of people on a beach drawing the Boilermaker start line, and families creating it on their streets and things like that. So, amidst all that, there were levels of positivity.”
And although the pandemic threw several curveballs at Boilermaker officials like Mark and Jim, they also learned a few lessons.
“We had to do a number of things differently because we basically canceled the race,” said Race Director, Jim Stasaitis.
“We have a no-refund policy, we had to change that – a lot of people we were able to defer and roll registrations over – but it was…even last year people said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable coming in’ so they rolled it over again to this year.”
He continued, “So this year we’re able to do it and start clean – we’ve learned a few things over the process of how we word things a little bit clearer.”
“And you know we let things roll off our back, and we take things to heart – but we’re still in a learning process.”