IRONBULL to make splash in community through silent sports
BY ANDREA LARSON
The communities of Bend, Oregon, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Durango, Colorado have all established themselves as hubs for outdoor recreation, making each a year-round destination. The community of Wausau, Wisconsin has recognized the potential economic impact of a similar positioning and has rallied behind the idea of making the Wisconsin community an outdoor recreation destination. Six foundations in the Wausau area have provided seed money to fund the organization.
Wisconsin as a whole has taken steps to better promote outdoor sports, with the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation under Governor Tony Evers. Wisconsin is the first state in the Midwest to create this position.
Dave Eckmann, President and CEO of the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, immediately saw the potential IRONBULL could bring to the community in early 2019, “IRONBULL dovetailed nicely with the ‘Greater Wausau Region Economic Development Strategic Plan’ that was commissioned by the Chamber as a blueprint for economic development and growth.” One of the highlights of this report was the recommendation to rebrand Central Wisconsin as the Xtreme Sports Capital of the USA, leveraging the area’s multitude of outdoor recreation assets.
What backs up these claims?
Several recent studies have clearly demonstrated the economic benefits of outdoor recreation.
A 2017 UW-Madison study studied all Wisconsin municipalities to identify communities gaining and maintaining young adult populations. The first finding of the study was that only about 15% of communities in Wisconsin are gaining and maintaining young adults. Researchers interviewed 210 people from 12 Wisconsin communities citing five important qualities of communities to attract young adults. One of these five important qualities was outdoor amenities such as parks and trails. A 2019 nationwide study by Headwaters Economics found a clear trend – retention in recreational counties far exceeded that of non-recreational counties across all community sizes. Likewise, the average household moving into recreation counties far exceeded that in non-recreational counties. Wausau was considered a non-recreational county in this study.
It is clear that Wisconsin faces a worker shortage – Wisconsin’s labor participation rate is 69%, significantly above the national labor participation rate of 63%, yet has about 100,000 jobs currently open. Since these impacts aren’t just short term, the trajectory needs to change for a lasting impact in the community.
How does silent sports change this trajectory?
IRONBULL is leveraging existing resources to hold epic races coupled to events to showcase these resources. IRONBULL’s goal is to demonstrate that Wausau is a destination city for millennials to come and play, relocate to, or never leave due to our outdoor recreational venues. At the core of IRONBULL’s mission is the desire to foster healthy lifestyles which numerous studies have shown lead to increased worker productivity but more importantly serve as an example for the next generation.
The initial ideas of creating a series of off-road races was developed by the Wausau & Marathon County Parks & Recreation Foundation in 2017, becoming incorporated in 2018 as a standalone organization. Bill Bertram, Vice President of the Park Foundation, explained, “The Foundation identified a void for silent sport enthusiasts in Central Wisconsin which presented an opportunity to leverage the geographic features that Mother Nature has blessed Marathon County with.”
Lead by example
Tim Buchholz, IRONBULL co-founder, along with his wife Anna Nummelin, are race directors of one of the premier adventure races in the nation, the Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge. They saw the potential for an overreaching brand that could develop and host outdoor races year-round in Marathon County. After receiving their doctorates in Florida, the couple decided to move to Wausau as it was the perfect place to both practice their professions and enjoy a multitude of year-round extreme sports.
“IRONBULL has the potential to change the face of Wausau for decades to come,” said Buchholz. Tim serves as IRONBULL president and Anna is active on the board and multiple IRONBULL committees.
Andrea Larson P.E., Executive Director IRONBULL, left her engineering career after a decade in research and development to give back to her hometown.
“IRONBULL will bring far more to Central Wisconsin than just the races,” beams Larson. “The organization will fuel the economy, change the community, and promote healthy living.”
IRONBULL race director Ellen Humberston moved here five years ago expecting to leave after her one year AmeriCorps term was completed but fell in love with Central Wisconsin’s outdoor amenities.
“I can’t wait to see people from around the states, and maybe the world, come to our community and realize how much it has to offer in terms of extreme sports!” glows Humberston. “IRONBULL events will provide an amazing way for people to challenge their preconceptions about what they are capable of, and to do so in locally-minded and conscious way.”
In addition to outdoor amenities being one of the five important qualities of communities to attract young adults found in the UW study was “a small town sense of community and civic engagement.” IRONBULL plans to engage people of all ages and ability levels by partnering with other community organizations.
IRONBULL has partnered with existing organizations and races to align the area’s resources. These sports partners include Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge, The Kayak Corporation, Central Wisconsin Off-Road Cycling Coalition (CWOCC), Wausau & Marathon County Parks & Recreation Foundation, Woodson YMCA, Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation & Forestry, and the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and UWSP at Wausau.
The Woodson YMCA, under the direction of Executive Director and CEO Bryan Bailey, was IRONBULL’s first race partner as a piece of the puzzle to make Wausau an it destination. In 2020, the oldest triathlon race in the state will become an IRONBULL event, transforming from an on-road triathlon to an off-road triathlon featuring paddling, mountain biking, and trail running.
And this is the first of several races following suit. The largest adventure race in the United States Adventure Racing Association, Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge, expects to grow even larger under the IRONBULL umbrella, adding a longer race to draw racers from across the country.
These ‘Xtreme Weekends’ will bring an experience to the entire community, not just weekend warriors. Plans are for an ‘IRONBULL Ring Series’ where athletes and their families would come back to Wausau to participate in different races throughout the year, earning the right to claim the title, ‘The Toughest of the Tough’ and the trophy, ‘The IRON Ring.’ IRONBULL races will have an extreme race geared towards elite racers looking for the next challenge and a recreational race for participants of all ability levels.
IRONBULL also plans to promote healthy lifestyle through IRONPOINT Health and Wellness EXPO in collaboration with University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. To reach the next generation, IRONBULL is collaborating with local civic organizations to hold a kids extreme playground as part of a weekend of events. The goal is to draw not just racers to the events but create a community event to draw people to Central Wisconsin and promote healthy lifestyle to all generations.
Mission & Goals of the IRONBULL
Our mission is to promote healthy lifestyles that incorporate demanding sports and recreational events that challenge oneself both physically and mentally to be the best that we can be.
Our goals include:
- Be at the leading edge of promoting and supporting emerging extreme sports.
- Invest in sporting venues and facilities that promote the extreme element of a sport.
- Support clubs and organizations that promote activities associated with extreme sports, whether the activities are based in or outdoor.
- Coordinate with other organizations to create a calendar of sporting events in Central Wisconsin that leverage existing and future recreational assets in the area.
- Act as a lifestyle magnet for millennials to live and work in Central Wisconsin.
- Rebrand Wausau as the Xtreme Sports Capital of the USA.