The Irish Rubberman Challenge

Most of us talk crap, our aspirations, our dreams all rolled into one and hoisted on a pedestal. An unreachable, unobtainable pedestal, that we leave up there and frequently gaze up at as they rot into regrets. But then there are the achievers, the straight talkers, devoid of bullshit and pedestals. People who have an idea and a will to follow it up. The Rubberman Challenge was founded by two such men; James Bodels, an Antrim man and Tony Redmond from Wexford, who had not an idea but a bet.

The Irish Rubberman Challenge took off  in 2001.It is a contest of the will to endure a 10mile cycle, 2mile run and 18holes of golf, it is a race to finish not to win. A triathlon with a difference, for the ordinary people, the non sporting people. Held in the quaint yet unfamiliar town of Bunclody, once a year people from all over the world gather together to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. Mr. Redmond says “We’ve had a lot of people that do it every year and we have attracted entrants from New York, Texas, South Africa, and Sweden to name a few.”

The idea came about from two friends jokingly insisting that one was fitter than the other but as usual with the male species rivalry triumphed and the bet ensued. Tony could run, James could cycle, so a triathlon of sorts was decided upon. Tony Redmond one of the founders said; ” The reason we choose golf was because I couldn’t swim but in reality back then we didn’t know anyone who did triathlons and we never even considered it.”

To date they have raised close to €200,000. Charities that they have so far contributed to include Meningitis Research Foundation, Make a Wish foundation, and Brainwave – Irish Epilepsy Association. However, their primary charity is Cystic Fibrosis.

The trek takes place along considerably challenging terrain across the countryside of County Wexford; one gets a taste of the real Ireland. What separates it from all the other triathlons besides the shortened distance is the sense of community that taints it. Many come along for the day to support their friends, their family, and their community. When you cross the finish line the relentless cheer that pulsates through the air is indescribable.

A huge impetus for the transition from a bet in the bar to a fully fledged money-making race was James Bodels sons, Campbell and Chris who both have Cystic Fibrosis. They inspired James to transform the race into something worthwhile. Campbell passed away three years ago. A cup dedicated to him commemorates his part in the founding of The Irish Rubberman Challenge.

Over the years, hundreds of people have taken part but only the founding fathers can say who they thought were the real champions. Tony allows it was; “ Jim Furlong and Orla O’Leary  at the start but later Brian Kavanagh certainly.  Ronan O’Donovan, an excellent athlete and golfer was also a past Rubberman champion (2002) but sadly passed away in 2008 while on holiday in Paris.”

The fun element is a key part of race day, the scary bikes dusted in cobwebs, rusted chains and soft tires make a stark and laughable contrast to the sleek racers and pointed helmets of the pros.People have been bitten by dogs, gone the wrong direction, fallen off, fallen off again, dismounted and pushed their bikes up hills and attempted to play golf for the first time in their lives.

Tony’s favourite memory is;  “ when two ladies (neither ever played before) were over heard on the golf course, there golf balls were close together and neither of them knew which ball to hit. (In golf you have to play the same ball or be penalized 2 shots or be disqualified if you do not declare it.  It’s a very strict rule). They walked up to both balls and after a lengthy discussion one turned to the other said “which one would you prefer”. Priceless.”

The future of the Irish Rubberman Challenge looks bountiful with the possibility of becoming an intercounty event. Mr. Bodels shrugs it off and said; “If they want it, they can organize it”, but he does confirm that it will be expanding to Limerick in the coming year.

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