What to Do When Your Race Destination Has Suffered Recent Trauma

What is the best way to navigate a competition when the destination is still recovering from disaster?

View down a debris-filled street with a burnt tree and collapsed building.
The aftermath of the August 2023 fire in Lahaina on the island of Maui. The neighboring Hawaii Island hosted the women's VinFast IRONMAN World Championship on October 14, 2023. Photo: Shutterstock.com/Silent O

On August 8, 2023, Hawaii was devastated with wildfires that razed the historic town of Lahaina and left 98 people dead, making it one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. Though most of the destruction took place on the island of Maui, Hawaii Island (sometimes called the Big Island by its visitors) suffered damage that day as well, and the effects are still felt across all the islands.

Only two months later, the women’s VinFast IRONMAN World Championship took place on Hawaii Island, in Kona, as it has for most of its history. The event is so synonymous with its location, that it has been referred to simply as “Kona” for many years, and always draws a significant amount of international attention and athletes. But the World Championship is not without controversy.

In 2022, residents, businesses, and even law enforcement complained of the toll the two-day event placed on Kona’s community. Police officers were forced to put investigations and general police duties on hold to work 12-hour shifts for the event, some commuting as far as two hours from another jurisdiction. [1] Some locals argued that the massive economic boon goes to fill the coffers of hotel franchises and rental car companies more than small businesses. [2] Others still were upset to see their community inundated with people “making a nuisance of themselves.” [3]

The complaints were enough in 2022 that IRONMAN made the decision to split its World Championship between Kona and Nice, France, for 2023—separating the men’s and women’s divisions. On top of concerns locals had already raised, the people of Hawaii were still in the midst of wildfire recovery efforts while preparing to host a massive international event. [4]

Respecting a race destination should always be in the minds of athletes who travel to compete, and when the area has suffered a recent trauma, this is especially important. On top of that, there are several actions competitors can also take when their race destination is still recovering from a disaster or other major event.

Be aware of the situation

No matter what, it’s always a good idea to research your travel destination, especially for international events. Understand what the political climate is like where you’re going; culturally appropriate behaviors to understand and apply; and if you will need to abide by any health regulations, government ordinances, or dress codes.

If a disaster has recently occurred but the event has not been cancelled, ask yourself if you would be hindering recovery efforts by attending. Check with your place of lodging, rental car company, airports, or any other travel accommodations to ensure they are still operational and welcoming travelers.

Respect the locals

There are many ways you can show respect to an area and its people. You can ask your travel companions to tamper any obnoxious behavior, learn a few phrases of the local language, and always pick up after yourself wherever you go. Keep in mind the concepts of “leave no trace” and “take nothing but memories and photos,” especially when it comes to natural resources (even as small as a piece of lava rock), monuments, and sacred places.

Respect can also be in how you dress: following a modest dress code according to local customs, as mentioned above, but also choosing not to wear potentially offensive clothing. For instance, it would probably not be a good idea to wear a shirt with graphics of firearms to a place that recently experienced a mass shooting.


Monetary donations are always welcome in the wake of tragedy, but they are not the only method for providing assistance. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, some marathon finishers immediately went to donate blood to nearby hospitals. [5] Victims of fire or other natural disasters often benefit from clothing, food, over-the-counter medications, and baby supplies like diapers. Animal shelters and hospitals may be inundated with displaced pets or wildlife and will list needed supplies on their websites.

Another way you can donate is to give your time or labor. This can include helping with disaster cleanup, assisting a food bank, or volunteering at an animal shelter. If you are able, consider extending your trip to volunteer before or after the competition. If the event is canceled and it’s safe enough to travel to the location, see if you can use your time there to help with recovery.

If you are donating money, beware of fraudulent charities. Vet the organization beforehand or donate to larger, well-known disaster relief agencies that are providing aid. Some of these agencies may include The Red Cross, The Salvation Army, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, or All Hands Volunteers.

Check your privilege

The Olympic Games are known as the pinnacle of sport. Every two years, we hear stories of glory, inspiration, redemption, and tragedy. For athletes and spectators, the host city turns into one giant celebration. But sometimes this celebration comes at the expense of the locals. There are stories of unhoused men and women being driven out of neighborhoods, residential properties demolished to make way for new athletic facilities, and governments exceeding their budgets by the billions. [6] In 2021, most Japanese residents did not want the already postponed Summer Games in Tokyo to take place because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. [7] The event happened anyway.

“Checking your privilege” may sound preachy, but it’s an important philosophy to consider. It helps you understand that, however exciting your event may be for you, the locals may not feel the same way. Just the ability of being able to travel to compete and enjoy any amenities your event may offer are privileges that those who live at the destination may not enjoy. When you travel to compete, you are a visitor to someone else’s home, and if you’re not mindful and respectful, you may not be welcomed back.

Checking your privilege is also an opportunity to pay kindness forward. With wildfires increasing in number and severity in recent years, [8] there may come a time when you find yourself in need of assistance from others. Hopefully, if that time does come, visitors and volunteers will pay you the same respect that you were able to give to others in need.

If you would like to assist with Hawaii’s ongoing recovery efforts, you can see a list of organizations and ways to help here.


  1. Kawano L. SHOPO: Detectives, officers put investigations on hold to provide security at 2-day Ironman event [Internet]. https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com. 2022 [cited 2023 Oct 11]. Available from: https://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/2022/10/25/police-union-security-needs-extended-ironman-event-resulted-required-putting-investigations-hold/
  2. Mackinnon K. 8 Options: Will there be an Ironman in Kona next year, and if so, how many? [Internet]. Triathlon Magazine Canada. 2022 [cited 2023 Oct 11]. Available from: https://triathlonmagazine.ca/racing/8-options-will-there-be-an-ironman-in-kona-next-year-and-if-so-how-many/
  3. Wurtele H. Commentary: Why St. George Trumps Kona [Internet]. Triathlete. 2021 [cited 2023 Oct 11]. Available from: https://www.triathlete.com/culture/news/commentary-why-st-george-trumps-kona/
  4. Sasani A. “No time to grieve”: residents lament decision to reopen Maui to tourism. The Guardian [Internet]. 2023 Oct 3; Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/oct/03/hawaii-tourism-reopening-maui-fires
  5. Stories of kindness amid tragedy in Boston Marathon bombing – CBS News [Internet]. www.cbsnews.com. 2013 [cited 2023 Oct 11]. Available from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stories-of-kindness-amid-tragedy-in-boston-marathon-bombing/
  6. The Dark Side Of Being An Olympic Host City. NPRorg [Internet]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/2021/07/04/1012978262/the-dark-side-of-being-an-olympic-host-city
  7. Survey: 83% against holding Tokyo Olympics this summer | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis [Internet]. The Asahi Shimbun. Available from: https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14351670
  8. Hosansky D, Research NC for A. Simultaneous large wildfires will increase in Western US, says study [Internet]. phys.org. [cited 2023 Oct 11]. Available from: https://phys.org/news/2023-10-simultaneous-large-wildfires-western.html