HY-VEE'S BIG RACE

WHEN IT COMES TO ENDORSING HEALTH AND FITNESS, you could say Hy-Vee is a triple threat. This June, the city of Des Moines, Iowa, and the 222-store supermarket chain, in conjunction with the International Triathlon Union, will play host in a big way to one of the world's elite triathlon competitions. Officially dubbed the ITU Des Moines World Cup Triathlon, the event features the largest purse ever

WHEN IT COMES TO ENDORSING HEALTH AND FITNESS, you could say Hy-Vee is a triple threat.

This June, the city of Des Moines, Iowa, and the 222-store supermarket chain, in conjunction with the International Triathlon Union, will play host in a big way to one of the world's elite triathlon competitions. Officially dubbed the ITU Des Moines World Cup Triathlon, the event features the largest purse ever awarded on the triathlon circuit — $700,000 in total.

The big appeal in sponsoring the race, according to Hy-Vee, was not only the inherent fitness image that a triathlon lends, but also the sport's recent growth. Indeed, membership in the United States Association of Triathletes grew by 149% between 2000 and 2005. The fact that more than two-thirds of these members were between the ages of 30 and 49 — Hy-Vee's primary age target — sweetened the deal even further, said spokeswoman Donna Tweeten.

“We decided to focus on a sport that would epitomize the health and fitness model,” she said. “In addition, we wanted to be associated with an event that showed signs of gaining in popularity with active participants, as well as fans.”

In addition to the elite competition, which will include 150 athletes from around the world, there will also be a triathlon for amateur participants, with a prize purse of $40,000. Both races will start in Gray's Lake, in the southwest corner of the city, and then evolve along different routes over nearby roads and through downtown streets.

Since 1991, only three other U.S. cities have hosted ITU World Cup Triathlons, including New York, Honolulu and St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Our role as hosts is somewhat rare and somewhat remarkable, given the relative size of our city,” said Ric Jurgens, president and CEO of Hy-Vee, in a statement.

In addition to the substantial prize money, the Des Moines competition will also be one of the qualifying events for the world championships and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It's a race not to be missed, explained Loreen Barnett, ITU's executive director.

“Our athletes work very hard and make many sacrifices to reach this level of competition, and it is wonderful that we are able to reward them like this,” she said.