On 1 June, the starting horn of the Herzliya Women’s Triathlon in Israel will sound for the 26th consecutive year. The story behind the event is both tragic and inspiring but, with nominations still open for the 2019 ITU Women’s Committee Award of Excellence, it is a story that once again underlines the enormous impact that individuals can and have had in bringing more women to discover our sport.
Back in 1994, Tamar Dvoskin was encouraged to race in Israel’s first ever women-only triathlon by her brother Oren. After some convincing, Tamar eventually acquiesced but on one condition; that her mum Susie join her in the race. That day, only 50 women took part, but the feeling of shared achievement kick-started a love of the sport between mother and daughter, one that was only halted by Tamar’s tragic death in August 1996 when she was hit by a car whilst out training.
Determined that her daughter’s legacy live on, Susie not only continued to race in Tamar’s honour, but took up the event’s reins and helped transform it into a rite of passage that up to 1300 women would enjoy and experience every year.
Susie was herself taken by cancer in May 2017, but today the race lives on with her husband and father of Tamar, Dan, at the helm, determined to continue his wife’s work and beloved daughter’s legacy.
“Both Susie and Danny dove deeply into the triathlon world after Tamar’s death,” says their son, Oren. “It began as a place of consolation but they both quickly fell in love with the sport and it became part of their lives. The fact that they were able to take that grief and transform it into such a huge event is what is so special and so rare.”
“It was a very special combination of Danny’s endless energies and organisational capabilities, together with Susie’s inspiring personality that made the event work so well, but since she has gone, it has become harder to draw the crowds.”
What remains is still a hugely successful event, but Dan Dvoskin agrees that without wife Susie’s driving personality behind it, the domestic triathlon landscape in Israel means it has become more difficult to attract the kind of peak numbers of a few years ago. His dedication, of course, remains unswerving.
“Maybe it is because Susie isn’t here now or that, countrywide, triathlon participation has dropped off, but she used to inspire the whole race,” he says. “The whole reason behind it was to get women involved in sport. That is why we went for the half-sprint distance and relay option, to make it as accessible as possible. Yes, it’s a race, but it is a lot less competitive, and winning isn’t as important as the idea that women can race here in a relaxed environment without feeling intimidated or worried about maybe being overtaken men.”
As such, the power of the occasion, like Susie and Tamar’s memories, remains undimmed. A minute’s silence is held at the start of the race to remember them, followed by honourable mentions for the youngest, oldest and longest-serving participants.
“Every year I would look at Susie and now only Danny with awe and love for the event. Being ‘Susie’s Son’ is quite the celebrity status!” adds Oren. “Tamar and Susie’s spirits are with us every year.”
Kristen Peters became a close friend of Susie and her experience is testament to the innate ability she had to draw people in to the event. More than just taking part in a race, triathlon became the epicentre of a new love affair and lifestyle, both with the sport and with the Herzliya organiser herself.
“Our daughter Sophia was the first to see the banner for the race,” says Kristen. “We went to the website and asked a few more questions. Within an hour, Susie had responded. Not only with answers, but also with an invitation to come to her home so we could discuss the triathlon in further detail. The door opened and we were greeted with a huge smile and a warm hug. We were in love immediately.”
“As journalist Jene Shaw said in an article, the words I would use to describe the event are, ‘open arms’. It provides an opportunity for women and girls of all ages and abilities to demonstrate courage and try something new while being surrounded by other participants, organisers and community members who believe in and support them. For many it is the first step in trying something new.”
“In a way, the Women’s Triathlon is a launching pad, an event that ignites women and girls and a place to return to, year after year to celebrate their own and each other’s victories over life’s challenges, big and small.”