Triathletes seek love as ‘Ironman Singles’
LAKE PLACID — Thirty-six hours before they are set to compete in this village’s inaugural Ironman 70.3, a dozen online acquaintances became in-the-flesh friends over dinner and drinks Friday evening at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery.
Here, across the street from the triathlon race’s starting line, these individuals from as far away as Colorado, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, met thanks to the one thing that brought them all here — membership in a closed Facebook dating group known as “Ironman Singles.”
Or, as they call it, “IMS.”
“I have a bigger Tri[athlon] community of friends through IMS than I do any other Facebook group I belong to,” said Ann Kurtenbach of Columbus, Ohio. “And I’ve been competing in Ironman events for nine years now. The network of people that I stay with, race with — they are almost all from IMS.”
“Where awesome meets awesome,” is the description at the top of Ironman Singles’s Facebook page. It’s via this online community where 2,425 individuals [and counting] from as far away as Selangor, Malaysia, and as nearby as here in the Adirondacks digitally interact with strangers who share a kindred passion for triathlon.
Both triathletes and “tryathletes” — those who attempt all three disciplines of swim, bike and run — are welcome to apply to the group, though not everyone is accepted. Once in, they are free to digitally chat about, as the Ironman Singles page puts it, “training, food, sex, dating and relationships!”
“IMS is meant for single triathletes of all age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and accomplishments who love the sport of triathlon,” the page reads, “[people who] love the journey to toeing the starting line of a race. And, best of all, the potential of finding love.”
Sipping on their first cocktails and beers at the brewery Friday, several IMS members said looking for love as an Ironman or Ironwomen can be a chore without this Facebook group, which helps them fit dating, flirting and forging friendships into their busy schedules.
“We all kind of understand each other,” said Jen Redmond of Somerville, New Jersey. “When you try to date someone who is not part of that community, they can have a hard time understanding what that’s all about. We are all in the same boat.”
Since the page was created in 2013, Kurtenbach and the administrator of Ironman Singles, Romeo Victor of Los Angeles, said there have been five IMS marriages, one that has produced a child, and two current engagements. One IMS member proposed to another at the finish line of a race in Louisville.
“And I helped with the proposal,” Kurtenback said. “It was two years ago. They both did the race, and he wanted to propose to her at the finish line. So I volunteered.”
These success stories are why most everyone joins the group. Kurtenbach got a chance to see the wedding of a male IMS group member from Texas who was moving to Chicago to marry a female member from the Windy City.
According to Victor’s Facebook analytic numbers, Chicago is the city with the most IMS members (59), followed by 45 in New York, 41 from Houston and 40 in Atlanta. Yet the group is truly global, with 84 members from the United Kingdom, a dozen from the Philippines and 11 from India.
Group members are as young as 18 and as old as 70. The largest age range for IMS is 35 to 44. More than 20 percent of total group members are women in that age range.
Nevertheless, Victor says he thinks it is really cool that there are many members 45 and up. Even more inspiring, he said, some are widowed or looking to bounce back from divorces, clinging to hope the site can help them find love anew.
“And even those members 50 and above,” Victor said, “they are very active in the group. Empty-nesters, we have a whole bunch of those.”
Victor is a digital marketer by trade who spends a customary half-hour each day supervising the page and screening new applicants. Administering a global digital group like this doesn’t come without its difficulties. For one, Victor said for every dozen applications he gets, he only accepts four to six. He has a tested process of looking at the applicants’ profiles to verify that they each is a “proud triathlete,” showcasing such in Facebook photos.
Each week, he says he has 100 to 150 pending requests, and when he’s ready to approve an individual, he sends what he calls “filtering questions.”
This process may seem overly thorough and detailed, but Victor says he administrates this way because the group’s members keep the pressure on him to run as tight a digital ship as possible.
And then there is the cardinal rule for IMS.
“If you are single, you stay,” Victor said. “But if you meet someone, you go.”
Victor said the group has a strong element of “self-policing,” where members reach out to him routinely to let him know of other members of the group that may not actually have the relationship status they claim. Victor refers to the worst of these “pot stirrers,” who create this kind of unavoidable drama on a Facebook page designed for dating, as “keyboard cowboys.”
That said, he realizes running the group would be impossible without the effort and interest of all those single individuals who are a part of it. He credits all of them for the organic growth of the page, which he says has increased exponentially in recent months.
As for his own love life, Victor said even with these advances in dating technology, the age-old variable of geography still gets in the way sometimes.
“I’ve met somebody through the group,” he said. “Unfortunately, she lives all the way up in northern California, but we remain as friends.
“But there are plenty of single women in the group I’d want to meet,” he added. “It’s just logistics.”