This may sound outlandish statement…but our beaches, coastal dune lakes, vast state parks, rolling country roads and favorable weather is an endurance athletes dream destination. Collectively our area has the resources to be one of the top fitness destinations in the world.
In the last decade, endurance sports such as cycling, triathlons and running have grown significantly in popularity. Unbeknown to our Bay County Commissioners, our visitor demographics are changing right before their eyes. Every year athletes from around the world come to our beaches to train and compete in world class endurance sports. They are here year round; spring, summer, fall and winter. They are not here for just one single event. They are vacationing with their families, training and competing in our events.
In a Bay County Commission meeting on December 6th it was quite clear that the leaders of our community see endurance events as a burden to our residents and businesses. A burden that both residents and businesses have to suffer every time an event is held. Commissioner Mike Thomas went as far as saying that we should share the suffering with some other area other than Bay County.
These comments and positions held by leaders of our community leave me at a loss for words. If our economy is driven primarily by tourism, then what is the issue with endurance athletes? According to the EASO, Endurance Athlete Supporting Organization, there is arguably no better marketing demographic in the world. Statistically speaking, endurance athletes are high wage earners, highly consumptive, highly passionate and highly philanthropic. Thus why most endurance events benefit a local charity. Endurance athletes are entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives. They are fathers, mothers, grandparents, and grand-kids. They own homes and cars, and they love to travel.
Unfortunately, based upon recent and historical positions of our county leaders, endurance athletes and endurance events appear to be nothing but a nuisance to our communities and businesses. On the flip side, Spring Breakers are a welcomed demographic to our community. According to Governing.com spring break in Panama City Beach from March 1st and March 15th 2011, city police made 477 arrests, issued 1,200 citations and answered 4,200 calls. A city manager was quoted as saying “we run and hide” during spring break. Public sanitation, beer bottles, plastic cups and an abundance of litter on our pristine beaches is an overwhelming mess for our county to clean up and manage. Yet, spring break appears to cause less of a burden than 1,000 runners enjoying a beautiful morning on the beach before most of our residents and businesses are awake.
IronMan Florida is ranked as the 25th most popular triathlon in the world according to Triathlete Magazine. We have over 3,000 athletes from 44 countries come to our beaches to fulfill a lifetime achievement. IronMan Florida is so popular that the 2013 event sold out in 45 seconds! This is something that our community leaders should be proud of. I am damn proud of it. Our beach, our businesses, and our residents have the opportunity to be part of one the greatest sporting events in the world and our community leaders see it as a burden and an unfortunate event that we have to suffer over. We should be proud that athletes from around the world choose Panama City Beach to compete. They bring their families and friends to celebrate life, personal achievement, and build lifelong memories of our beautiful area while infusing significant revenue into our economy. This is what we want…right? isn’t this good for our community?
TDC President Dan Rowe and Richard Sanders have done something amazing by bringing another premier event to our area, The Biggest Loser Run Walk. Obesity in America is out of control for adults and youths with over 17% of U.S. children being obese. Panama City Beach was chosen to be the setting for a life changing event for over 1,000 people. This is an event that our community and it’s leaders should embrace and support. Not because it benefits a charity, but because Panama City Beach is instrumental in backing one of the largest and highest profile fitness movements in the United States. We are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of a truly amazing event…an event that will be the premier event for which all other future Biggest Loser Events will be measured. We should be excited about this. This is a good event for our community, an event we should be honored to host and an event I would want passing by my home and business.
The Bay County Commission said The Biggest Loser Run Walk will be disruptive and nuisance to businesses. Commissioner Mike Thomas says his business is often times blocked by heavy foot traffic during races. “It’s selfish, I know, but it’s true for everyone on the west end.”
It is my opinion that this is pure nonsense and short sighted. If I owned Thomas’ Donuts I would sponsor a water stop right in front of my restaurant. I would have my family, friends and employees handing out water and cheering on the 1,000 participants as they ran by my restaurant. I would have tables and chairs set up out front so families and friends could watch their loved one’s compete while enjoying breakfast at my restaurant. I would hand out Thomas’ Donut Swag and coupons to race participants and put together a corporate team to compete in the 5K Run Walk and wear Thomas’ Donuts T-shirts. Healthy employees are happy employees. I would ensure my business had a positive and significant impact on the event versus a negative impact on my business. In two hours I could have prime marketing exposure to 1,000 potential clients to my business, I would be supporting a great cause and I would be leading by example how a business could profit from an endurance event. This would be great for my business not bad for my business.
It is a fair argument that a frequently used course route several times a year is an issue. A more balanced event venue location strategy is certainly a great discussion point. I believe our community can successfully support all events. With a little flexibility, positive leadership and creativity it can be a win win for everyone.
I hope to see all five of our Board of Commissioners step up to the Biggest Loser Challenge and participate in the 5K Run Walk. It would be an excellent way to experience how important these events are to our community, the participants and their families.