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The triathlon to end all triathlons, Ultra520K Canada, is underway

Today at 6:30 a.m., a couple dozen athletes from across North America and around the world gently waded into the choppy waters of Skaha Lake. Their goal? To swim from Skaha Lake Beach to Sovereign Boat Launch - exactly ten kilometers away.

That's ten kilometers. Most of us can barely walk ten kilometers, never mind swim it.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

Two hours and twenty-five minutes later, the lead swimmer, Vancouver's Barry Berg, popped up from the water, stumbled ashore, and crossed the finish line.

One little detail. The finish line Berg crossed signaled only the end of the swim section of one of the most taxing triathlons in the world. Coming up was another 510 kilometers of competition spread over three days.

Within minutes, Berg was on his bike. He'd pedal 150 kilometers - down through Osoyoos, up Richter Pass, and back to Okanagan Falls - by the end of the day. Sunday, he'll bike another 275 kilometers on a zig-zag route throughout the south Okanagan and the Similkameen, ending up in Princeton. Then on Monday, he'll run 84.5 kilometers along the old Princeton-Summerland Road.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

He'll then cross the real finish line and at that point can say he's one of few who have competed in, and completed, the brutal event known as Ultra520K Canada.

Will he be passed by another athlete along the way? Potentially. His closest rival was just five minutes behind at the end of the swim, and the run on the final day can be the great equalizer.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

Will the lone Pentictonite in this year's event, Stephanie Rivest, be the one to do it? Unlikely. She was 90 minutes behind at the end of the swim. Still, it's her first Ultra520K, and just getting out there and taking part in this monster of a race is hugely impressive.

There are, however, some names integral to the race that you'll never, ever see on the leaderboard. And that's not because they're slow pokes. It's because they're volunteers - unsung yet essential members of the Ultra520K experience who are nevertheless essential to its success.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

Gary Scatchard is one such volunteer. Anyone into local endurance sports likely knows Scatchard, and that's because he volunteers at just about every important regional event. There are a lot of people in the Penticton area like Scatchard, and that helps make the town the endurance sport capital it is.

Today, he was on equipment detail. Stuff like the fencing, the finish lines, the bike racks, and a whole bunch more. "Since about 2000 I started volunteering for Ironman," he said this morning, "and it's just snowballed into volunteering for every event. Somebody's got to do it."

Scatchard figures he spends about 40 hours on an Ultra520K weekend, and says this is his tenth year doing it. And he loves it.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who> Long-time volunteers Bill Fulton and Gary Scatchard

"We had five athletes do this one year, and we've had all the way up to 36. With that many athletes, they all get to know each other, and we get to know them too. People who started off really disliking each other end up being best of friends. It's a weird dynamic with a group this small, and everybody overlaps. It's like a family out there."

Last year, Scatchard crewed for eventual 2018 winner Dave Matheson of Penticton. But this year he's back on event volunteering, and he sees potential issues ahead.

"I moved here 12 years ago, and our core volunteers are now getting on the older side. We need some younger blood, some younger muscle. You can approach any race director - they're pretty much all looking for help."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

Like Scatchard, Bill Fulton of Summerland is a decade-long Ultra520K volunteer.

"I'm one of the equipment managers," he said during a quick break at the swim finish line today. "We set up and tear down all the finish lines. We start at 4:30 in the morning, and usually finish anywhere between 8:00 and 9:30 at night."

"I really don't know why I do it," he laughed. "I got conned into doing it the first year, and it just blossomed from there. I really enjoy it."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

Fulton also thinks that Penticton's renowned core of endurance sport volunteers needs a little propping up. "We have a good volunteer base here, but I think they can always use more now that some of us are getting a bit older."

Steve Brown knows the value of a good volunteer crew. He's the founder and race director of Ultra520K, and today, from his tent at Sovereign Boat Launch, he gave us an inkling into what brings him back year after year.

"Some friends of mine talked me into this. I'd just come off being the race director for Ironman Canada, and some friends said, 'Hey, we want you to put together this other event we know about that originated in Hawaii. I basically told them they were nuts."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

"But they took me out on the course they thought would work - we've since changed it a bit - but they took me out. And we ran the event in 1993, and I was hooked. It was so different than anything else that's done, like Ironman. The closeness, the camaraderie, the atmosphere around the race was something I hadn't experienced before."

"Every race has its incredible moment where you see people who've overcome unbelievable things in their lives, from people who've been diagnosed with very serious cancers, and survived horrific bike crashes. And to see them come across the finish line is always something very special."

The 2019 iteration of Ultra520K Canada will end Monday afternoon at Summerland's Memorial Park. The first athlete should theoretically hit the finish line at approximately 2:30 p.m., and race announcer par excellence, Steve King, will be there to expertly detail every moment.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

Having been there for last year's finish, we can say it's an emotional experience that's well worth your time should you decide to drop by.

In the meantime, live results will be posted all weekend long at the Ultra520K Canada Facebook site.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia</who>

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