'Beat the Cold' triathlon aims to shine light on perils of winter homelessness

While some Winnipeggers are not keen on spending extended time outside in the cold weather, a couple hundred will be competing in a winter triathlon.

15-kilometre triathlon takes place along the river trails at The Forks

A five-kilometre bike ride will one of three segments of the Beat the Cold Winter Triathlon. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

While some Winnipeggers are not keen on spending extended time outside in the cold weather, a couple hundred will soon be competing in a winter triathlon. 

The first "Beat the Cold" race goes down on Saturday, Feb. 9, along the river trails path at The Forks. 

All profits from the race will go toward Just a Warm Sleep, an overnight warming shelter operating in Osborne Village, which provides beds for up to 25 people a night.

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, executive director of 1JustCity which runs the winter shelter, says the support for the race has been overwhelming.

"We set the target at 150 (participants), which I thought was pretty optimistic, but then to be at just over 200 is pretty wild," she said.

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, executive director of 1JustCity, which operates a warming shelter in Osborne village, is overwhelmed with the support for the 'Beat the Cold' race. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

"This is great because it gets people thinking about it a little bit. Then also, it makes people feel like they've made a difference."

The race course spans a total of 15 kilometres, broken down into three five-kilometre segments, which can be done solo or as a relay.

Racers start off with a five-kilometre run, before they hop on a fat-tire bike and eventually finish with a skate.

The official race map for the Beat the Cold Winter Triathlon. (Supplied by Luke Rempel)

Jared Spier, executive director of Triathlon Manitoba, has overseen a handful of other triathlons, but none have garnered similar fanfare.

"We've had winter triathlons in Winnipeg and Manitoba before, but nothing has taken off quite like this before," said Spier.

"People want to make sure they're doing something that makes a difference at the end of it." 

Helping the homeless

For day to day operations, Blaikie Whitecloud says the warming centre needs a little bit more than $250 a day to keep the lights on and pay the necessary staff.

Events like this not only bring in more money, but also raise awareness of what's happening on the streets, she said.

"Winnipeggers, we want to do fun new things. We want to show that we're tough in this weather, but we also want to make sure that those who are the least fortunate don't have to sleep outside," she said.

"I think the sales in terms of selling out so fast, shows Winnipeg is down to do good things for its community."

The man behind the idea, Luke Rempel, the race director and Red River College communications student, approached Blaike Whitecloud with the idea a few months ago.

Race director Luke Rempel goes for a run, which will be the start of the winter triathlon race. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

Rempel says he wanted to simulate an experience where people would be outside for an extended period of time.

"After this race, you get to go inside, but there's people out there that will have to walk all night just to stay warm and they don't have that option," he said. 

While it's not exactly the same situation, Spier is hoping there is a greater understanding what homeless people deal with during the frigid temperatures. 

"I really do hope the racers, the volunteers, everyone's who is connected (with the race) takes a moment to think about, 'OK, I'm out there working as hard as a I can, and I'm still just staying warm, What happens when I try to sleep at night?,'" he said.

"The answer is you don't, unless you have help."

The race

Spier has overseen many races, but with the freezing temperatures and chances of strong winds, there are definitive challenges come race day.

"I think the challenge is pretty severe, you know; a lot of people would think, going out for a run in some of the weather we have in the winter is enough," he said.

Skating will be the final block of the race. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC News)

"[When you] add the biking and skating, yeah, there's definitely a challenge coupled with the weather."

With the support they've received from the city, and the sign-ups, Blaikie Whitecloud says this may not be a one-off. 

"With the excitement behind it, it means we need to figure out how to do this again," she said.