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Surrey CEO’s 100th Ironman race is reason to raise $100K to help build new YMCA in city

Elizabeth Model’s revised plan is to race in Oklahoma in May
Elizabeth Model at the 2013 Ironman World Championship held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (submitted photo)

** This story has been updated

Elizabeth Model plans to do her 100th Ironman triathlon this year, and she originally wanted to swim, cycle and run in South Africa as a fundraiser to help build the new YMCA in Surrey City Centre.

The race at month’s end would have been a landmark one for Model, CEO of Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, but the Ironman event in Port Elizabeth has been postponed due to COVID-19 virus concerns.

Now, Model said she plans to do her 100th Ironman race in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31.

• RELATED STORY, from 2018: Elite company for Surrey CEO, the only woman in the world to complete every Ironman.

“I think only a couple guys in the world have done 100,” Model said. “I’d hoped to do it last year but I went and broke my wrist putting up my Canada Day flag, but doing it this year, this way, is actually more serendipitous, a little bit.”

Last summer, Model fell while at home, on her balcony.

“I didn’t even fall two feet,” she said, “I just misstepped and tried to catch my balance going down, and it was just the way I fell. I was laid up for a few weeks and had to cancel a couple of Ironmans I wanted to do in Europe, so I didn’t get my 100th done last year.”

In a Facebook post, Model says she’d like to use her Ironman endeavours to help fund Downtown Surrey’s new YMCA facility “as a give-back to my city and community for their continued support and encouragement.

“Capital campaigns can be exceptionally efficient and economically empowering, so please me help execute one for Downtown Surrey’s new YMCA,” she wrote.

With the complete closure of North Surrey Recreation Centre last December, and the building’s demolition to come, a plan to build a new YMCA facility in Surrey’s city centre began gaining steam last fall.

The YMCA of Greater Vancouver is in talks with the City of Surrey, Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) and SFU to construct “a modern community, health, fitness and recreation facility” in the area.

• RELATED STORY: New YMCA facility eyed in Surrey City Centre, with site ‘a first key step’

The new Surrey City Centre YMCA would include amenities similar to those offered at Tong Louie Family YMCA, located in Surrey’s Panorama area.

Model’s fundraiser, which aims to raise $100,000, is posted to a “Peer to Peer Fundraising” page at

She wrote: “As I toe the start line on March 29, 2020 waiting for the cannon to fire for the swim in Nelson Mandela Bay, I will think of ALL of you for celebrating my 100th Ironman together and for creating a better and higher cause to this epic 226km journey. My deepest appreciation for your generous spirit, support of the Y, and making life just a little better for all in Surrey! My personal thanks to you for all of your support. You are appreciated by more than just me!”

Raising $100,000 can and will happen, Model said confidently.

“Oh yes, I have a lot of good friends and good business associates who feel Surrey is worth it, and it’s time we step up, as a city, and start to recognize that we are worth it,” she told the Now-Leader. “It’s a capital expense and we’re going to have some fun with it and go on this journey to help raise these funds. We’re hoping people can give $5 or $10 or something more along the way, of course, and in order to make it work we have to give people time. We’ll probably continue it (the fundraiser) until year’s end, I’m not sure, but once we reach $100,000, an announcement will be made.”

In celebration of her 50th Ironman race several years ago, Model said she did a fundraiser that collected nearly $25,000 for Vancouver Resource Society, an organization that builds accessible housing across B.C.

“For me, because I have a niece who is disabled, it was a tie-in for me,” Model said. “So with this one (for her 100th Ironman), I gave it some deep thought, because I’ve worked in Surrey for 11 years and the rec centre is now closed.

“I have travelled around the world with my partner, and he’s a Y member, so we go to all the Ys around the world, and they’re all run very differently, but it’s always a place that we know we can go and see young and old, see the interaction of the community, and it’s a community space,” Model added. “They have so many programs that I feel would be very beneficial for Surrey’s downtown core, with many of the people we have, including immigrants and people who come here as refugees, for them to use as well and feel comfortable there. That’s how we came about it.”

For the uninitiated, an Ironman triathlon involves a 3.86-kilometre swim, a 180.25-kilometre bike ride and full 42.20-kilometre marathon run, completed in that order and without a break.

Model’s 100th Ironman was completed last fall in Cozumel, a couple of months after she raced in Madison, Wisconsin.

Over the past 15 years, the Burnaby resident has travelled the world doing long-distance triathlons.

Model wasn’t always an endurance athlete – far from it, in fact.

“I was very overweight in university, and I stopped weighing myself at 268 pounds, and I know I got up to about 280,” she recalled during an interview in 2018. “As a child I was very, very active, and between boarding school and university, I just packed on pounds, not being active enough. And when I graduated it was a case of, ‘Gosh, I’ve never weighed so much,’ and I just started being active again and eating right and not slumming around dormitories, and all the rest of it, and the weight just came off.”

Years later, around the time she hit age 40, and long after she entered the business world, Model found the energy to run a marathon, and “got hooked” on endurance racing. “I started in 2005 in Penticton, in August of that year,” Model said. “I was 46 at the time.”

Doing the math, Model has completed an average of seven Ironman races each year since the mid-2000s.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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