Haines City races to prepare for storm-diverted Ironman event

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Thousands of top-flight athletes from around the world are coming to Haines City next weekend to compete in the Ironman -- which was a surprise to all of them. The event was moved to Polk County from Panama City at the last minute because of the destruction from Hurricane Michael.

“My cell phone rang at 4:45 in the morning as a result of an e-mail from the race director of Ironman, and I read it,” said Ryan Ritchie, of Haines City Parks and Recreation. “I had initial hesitation, but I knew we could handle it.”

The event runs from November 1 to 4. So getting the race so late in the game is putting enormous pressure on Polk County. Ironman has to round up 1,800 volunteers in about a week and a half.

“We are hitting it on every front,” said Mark Zimmerman of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing.

They are relying on social media, word of mouth, and TV to recruit.  They are also reaching out to non- profit groups that have helped at the Ironman 70.3. Haines City has hosted the Ironman 70.3, a shorter version of the big Ironman, for the last seven years.

Competitors in the Ironman have to run 26 miles, ride 112 miles and swim 2.5 miles.

LINK: To volunteer, go to www.ironman.com