British triathlete Laura Siddall has written an open letter thanking the whole town for the support she received during Challenge Wanaka.
Siddall, competing for the fourth time, finished second in the Challenge Half behind Australia’s Annabel Luxford.
She has now written to the Wanaka Sun to thank the town, particularly for its welcoming nature (see below for the full letter).
“I travel all over the world training and racing and I’m fortunate that I have this opportunity. However, Wanaka is always one of the places that sticks out to me and is a favourite. It’s a small community but with a big, big heart, and I want to express how special this place is, how Challenge Wanaka is one of the best races in the world, and say thank you to all the residents of Wanaka.
“People are so welcoming to us as athletes, but as tourists I guess to your town, and I thank you for this. There are many places I travel around the world where this isn’t the case. I appreciate that with events like Challenge, there comes disruption to your everyday lives, and many towns are resentful and not welcoming at all,” she wrote.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your open and friendly welcome, your support, your smiles, your energy and enthusiasm.”
In the letter, she also paid tribute to the host families providing accommodation for athletes and to the event’s many volunteers. Lauding the effort of local children, she also took time to praise the Junior Challenge event, which happens the day before the main race.
“It’s also amazing to see all the local school children taking part in the Junior Challenge on Friday morning. To see the energy and enthusiasm for the kids as they make their way around the course, and the smiles on their faces as they cross the line is fantastic.”
Cover photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Here's Laura’s full letter....
To the wonderful Wanaka residents,
I recently participated in the Challenge Wanaka triathlon. It was my fourth year back in Wanaka, and I just love it more and more, each time I return.
I travel all over the world training and racing and I’m fortunate that I have this opportunity. However, Wanaka is always one of the places that sticks out to me and is a favourite. It’s a small community, but with a big big heart, and I want to express how special this place is, how Challenge Wanaka is one of the best races in the world, and say thank you to all the residents of Wanaka.
Each year I return, and just can’t help but smile as I descend into Wanaka, and see the lake and mountains ahead. It’s like a weight is lifting off your shoulders, and suddenly there’s a calm, tranquil, relaxing and happy feeling that embraces me.
As I return, I see the same friendly, smiling faces around town. Everyone says hello and they often want to have a chat in the cafes and streets around town. People are so welcoming to us as athletes, but as tourists I guess to your town, and I thank you for this.
There are many places I travel around the world, where this isn’t the case. I appreciate that with events like Challenge, there comes disruption to your everyday lives, and many towns are resentful and not welcoming at all.
It feels awful being there and you almost can’t wait to leave. Not Wanaka. Wanaka I could stay for much longer with the hospitality and welcoming we receive.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to stay with several families, who have kindly opened up their houses, and welcomed me into their homes, to host me as an athlete for the event. Kate and David Walton, Jan and Ross Parry, The Telfer’s and their kids Rhian and Laila, Marianne and Bec’s Murray-Orr.
This is an incredible gesture and one that as an athlete we are hugely appreciative off. Each couple and family I’ve been hosted by have been amazing, and a true representation of the generosity and community spirit in Wanaka and the region.
I love being able to spend some time with the family, learn about life in Wanaka, the local way, their stories, their inspirations. For them I hope I leave them with a positive and good feeling and that they have found value too in hosting me. I’ve had the opportunity to hear their stories, their lives, the history, the ins and outs of towns.
I’ve been able to cycle to school with their children, support their kids at the Junior Challenge, speak at assemblies, discussed the ever growing tourism and seasonal growth in Wanaka, the infrastructure, our favourite cafes and restaurants, the local finds, the race and so much more.
I hope that hosting an athlete is a truly rewarding experience for the families, and I strongly urge someone to say yes, next year if you are thinking about it as an option.
We are grateful for a bed to sleep, and some cooking facilities, anything else is a bonus and much appreciated but not expected.
Just to be welcomed into your home is incredible and so I want to say thank you to everyone who’s hosted athletes over the years and to everyone who may go on to host in the future.
To all the volunteers that help run the event. It could not happen without you! THANK YOU! I know in Wanaka you have many many events that require volunteers over the year.
Wanaka residents have big hearts but I can appreciate and understand that there is a level of fatigue that goes with this, and all the events. But you guys are amazing. You are always smiling and welcoming us to the event and registration.
Athlete nerves are flying high, yet you calm and reassure us. You are greeting us race morning when we arrive in the dark, you are out there all day on the swim, bike and run (coping with whatever elements the Wanaka weather throws our way on race day), encouraging us, and supporting us at the aid stations or road junctions.
You are there with still smiling faces as we cross the finish line, to hug and congratulate, whatever time, however long it’s taken us, whatever age, ability, in the day or in the dark. THANK YOU! You are part of our special days, in fact you make the day special for us.
Your energy and enthusiasm, your smiles, your calming influence it’s an incredible feeling and one that we all appreciate and take in.
We may not acknowledge on the race course, but believe me, we love it and are really grateful for you giving your time and energy for the event. THANK YOU!
It’s also amazing to see all the local school children taking part in the Junior Challenge on Friday morning. It’s the largest Junior Challenge event in the World! In little Wanaka! How awesome is that!
To see the energy and enthusiasm for the kids, as they make their way around the course, and the smiles on their faces, as they cross the line is fantastic. For the primary school children of Wanaka, to have this opportunity to participate in part of the event, to be active and have fun, I believe is key in the growth and development of the kids.
Who knows what seeds are planted and what dreams are made that day. A huge thank you then to Wanaka for supporting this great race and encouraging all the kids to take part. For the first time this year, a Secondary Schools Triathlon took place. Another amazing initiative from the Challenge Wanaka team.
These are the next generation of athletes. There was some amazing talent and ability racing in this event, which was fantastic to see and I hope that the involvement with the event, will inspire these athletes to go on to bigger and better things, be it in sport, triathlon or even outside or sport and the skills they gain for life.
So thank you Wanaka! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for your open and friendly welcome, your support, your smiles your energy and enthusiasm.
It means so much and makes this small, stunning town in little New Zealand, a big hitter, with a big voice and a big heart, a truly beautiful and challenging course, but one of the very very best races and events in the world. I can’t wait to come back.
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