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40 Stories – Diana Bertsch – 2009

The IRONMAN has had many great race directors since its birth. From the beginning with Valerie Silk to present, each has helped nurture the race along.

But when it comes to helping us all remember why the IRONMAN in Hawai`i is so special, none have done it like the current person at the helm, Diana Bertsch. She explains it this way:

“IRONMAN is more than swim, bike and run. There is something about it that cannot be defined. It drives individuals to strive for excellence (Kūlia I Ka Nu`u) and be the best they can possibly be.”
Racing in Hawaii is a combination of beauty and intensity.

Landing on the Island of Hawaii makes you acutely aware that the IRONMAN World Championship is taking place somewhere incredible and unique. You step off the plane and that reality hits.

It’s both amazing and intimidating. You feel the power of the Island. You see the lava and feel the heat. From the first breath you take outside of the artificially controlled environment of that metal tube called an airplane you know you are in a place like no other on earth.

The people and culture of Hawaii have been shaped by the forces of this island. Every facet of daily life is a reflection of it, and has been for generations. The spirit of Aloha that is so synonymous with Hawaii is a call to honor the fact that life on the Island is a gift that none of us really have the ultimate say in. Honoring the Island of Hawaii and the way of life it has nurtured for so long is natural for those born here. The rest are put on task to learn how to do that.

The IRONMAN World Championship is equally influenced by Hawaii’s power and strength. If honored, the experience on race day is like no other in it’s ability to fill your life with awe and gratitude. If it’s ignored or in even the smalled way dismissed, the day will still be like no other, but in a way that can be like a searing hot piece of steel coming in contact with your heart as a way to wake you up.

IRONMAN World Championship Events Director Diana Bertsch flanked by The Voice of IRONMAN Mike Reilly and myself.
“My first year as Event Director for the IRONMAN World Championship was 2003. Our focus that year was the 25th Anniversary. I felt like what we showcased in 2003 could have been done anywhere, though.”
“It was missing the heart and soul of what really makes IRONMAN. I felt like it was important to connect the people who had come to race with the culture that was welcoming them there and supporting their efforts.”
“In 2004 we started focusing on the importance and integration of Hawai`i, the people and the Aloha. Island Breeze [who performs at a number of events race week] would establish a theme every year for their performances and tie it in with the Banquets and race morning.”

“At the end of 2008, Mahealani (Mahea) Akau and I were reflecting on our year, and all that surrounds IRONMAN in making the event not only possible but magical.”
“It was then that we decided to create a theme for each year, something that would inspire, share the culture, and encourage people to engage with the event and the island on a spiritual level.”

The theme that next year for the race and the IRONMAN experience was “He Au Hou i Ka `Eheu O Ka Noio” – A New Era on the Wings of a Noio. Each year since then has had a different theme. Each builds on the effort and energy from the previous year and becomes a guiding force for both the athletes and all who are involved with helping Diana Bertsch put on the event.


Each year’s theme becomes the guiding force for Diana Bertsch and her team as well as for the athletes racing.
“For us it all starts with the theme, this brings us our focus, passion and drive for the year ahead. The themes each year are inspired by the journey we are on within the IRONMAN `Ohana and the life that surrounds us.”

Here are all the themes of the IRONMAN World Championship since that first one in 2009.

  • 2009 – He Au Hou i Ka `Eheu O Ka Noio – A New Era on the Wings of a Noio
  • 2010 – Ke Alahele O Ke Koa – The Way Of The Warrior
  • 2011 – Ko Aloha La Ea – Keep Your Love
  • 2012 – Aa Na Maka O Na Aa – The Sparkling Eyes of My Roots
  • 2013 – Mohala I ka wai ka maka o ka pua – Unfolded by the water are the faces of the flowers
  • 2014 – Ho`omau – Perseverance, Determination, Endurance
  • 2015 – `Onipa`a – The Hawaiian tradition of exploration and discovery was built through ‘onipa‘a — the strength to remain steadfast, resilient, and resolute. This tradition is
    embodied in the Makali‘i Hawaiian Voyaging Canoe
  • 2016 – Kupa`a – Your strength to stand firm, to believe in and be loyal to yourself and your surroundings
  • 2017 – Aloha – The spirit of Hawai’i and its guardians maintain balance and harmony through Aloha


What makes this a Top 40-Greatest Moment At IRONMAN is how the themes that started in 2009 help connect the athletes to a larger picture of what makes the IRONMAN World Championship such an amazing experience. Here is Diana Bertsch explaining the reason for the themes and the details of the 2011 Theme “Ko Aloha La Ea” – Keep Your Love.

I hope you can all join us at the IRONMAN World Championship this year and help celebrate the 2018 theme, which is The 40th Anniversary- 40 Years of Dreams. It is this theme that inspired me to put together the series of 40 Stories that are being posted all the way through IRONMAN week this coming October. Stay tuned for more!

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