By Ben Lawrence
Ben Lawrence in the Happy Valley Half Ironman Triathlon. Photo: Jim Valent.
Call it a midlife crisis, but after a couple decades of living in Happy Valley I’d reached the point of, “meh." Don’t get me wrong, I still marvel at our beautiful surroundings, the allure of Penn State, and – at least for me – the epic cycling that surrounds us, but my hometown was beginning to feel like that half opened bag of chips in my pantry tastes: stale.
State College had become for me a place rich with tradition (hooray for football games and arts festivals and homecoming parades) but much like playing the same Rick Astley song over and over, I was craving something novel. And frankly, a concert or speaking tour wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted something that celebrated our community, not a celebrity, and stirred a conviction that Central PA is home to smart, friendly people and unrivaled scenery with the power to inspire anyone, regardless of stature or location, to pause and think, “I want to live here.” And just as my wife and I, nearly empty nesters, began to flirt with that midlife dating app known as Zillow, Happy Valley busted through its plain vanilla coating and served up something spicy: The Happy Valley Half Ironman Triathlon.
When I first heard our community was hosting this event I recalled a quote from the late comedian George Carlin, “I refuse to participate in the first annual anything.” Scenes of snarled traffic and poorly marked courses filled my mind, as I know after 25 years of racing that triathlons, more stressful to host than a bridezilla wedding, often unravel into moments akin to the Three Stooges carrying a ladder. So many triathlons become chaotic clusters while cranky athletes and confused volunteers storm around the course seeking the race director, who was last seen wearing a Groucho Marx disguise while hiding under a table.
Just as my wife and I, nearly empty nesters, began to flirt with that midlife dating app known as Zillow, Happy Valley busted through its plain vanilla coating and served up something spicy: The Happy Valley Half Ironman Triathlon.
But knowing this was a big event for our community and so many of my friends were participating, I threw my hat in the ring and braced for George Carlin, on race day, to roar down from the heavens, “I told you so!”
Instead, this event inspired me to fall back in love with Happy Valley. The registration process was flawless. The swim course was teeming with volunteers – from kayakers to wetsuit strippers (yep, that’s a thing) to a high energy DJ blasting AC/DC at 6am. Throughout the bike ride, even the smallest towns were lined with cheering sections (thank you, Marion Township!) while the Amish came out in droves to offer friendly waves. And the run course included so many cheery volunteers handing out ice and Red Bull that even the most overheated racer could stay cool and caffeinated. Finally, the course’s home stretch, which by some miracle permitted mortals like me to enter Beaver Stadium and cross the 50 yard line, was as close to Nittany Nirvana as anyone not named Grant Haley will ever experience.
The Happy Valley Triathlon brought out the best in our community. Expert logistics. Outstanding volunteers. Enthusiastic crowds.
In short, the Happy Valley Triathlon brought out the best in our community. Expert logistics. Outstanding volunteers. Enthusiastic crowds. This event proved that while Happy Valley does have a long list of well practiced traditions, it also has the agility and teamwork to pull a new rabbit out of its hat.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the thousands who flocked to Happy Valley for this race left our region with a deeper appreciation for it. I smile knowing that at the same time I’m deleting my Zillow account, those suffering the midlife “mehs” are creating one, adding Central PA to their search criteria, and planning their next visit to the town I’m grateful to call home.
A special Thank You to the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, race director Josh Cone, and all event sponsors who worked so hard to make this magical event happen. Now… What’s next?
Ben Lawrence is author of The HEART of the WOLF: The Upside-Down Secret to Being a Kickass Salesperson, available now in hardback and paperback on Amazon and at leadthesalespack.com.