Sunday morning was to be the 31st Ironman Canada event in Penticton and the first in eight years.

But, due to COVID-19, fans will have to wait at least another year for the triathlon to return.

Dyane Lynch of Burnaby, who owns a piece of Ironman folklore, wanted to be here — not as a competitor, but to cheer on her nephew, Julian Lynch.

Lynch’s name (although misspelled) can be found in the Champion’s Circle at Rotary Park as the first woman to win the race, way back in 1983.

That day, she was the only woman, something she didn’t know until later.

No wetsuit, no gels and at the age of 40, she completed the distance swim, bike and run in 15 hours, 36 minutes, 47 seconds.

“I was in training for Hawaii and eight of us were sponsored by the Province of Alberta. I took a bus from Alberta, didn’t tell anyone I was going to Penticton and the other women who had signed up had withdrawn. I had (race) No. 21 written all over my body, but people kept calling me ‘Dyane.’

“When I was about 90 miles out on the bike, my sugar levels were low, nobody was around, I wanted to quit. But, I can’t do that, I’m the only woman.”

She and 22 men completed the race. It was new to most of them. At the time, she never thought Ironman races would be around

40 years later.

She went to Hawaii later that year and finished, but never did another Iron distance. Life circumstances took her to Ireland, where she still competed in marathons.

Hawaii was established at the time, but she found the experience here to be far more exhilarating.

Since 1983, she’s volunteered many times at Ironman as a massage therapist, was invited to light the cannon with 1983 men’s winner Mike Wagstaff at the 20th anniversary and did a leg of a Challenge Penticton relay (with friends Sister Madonna Buder and Gary Billmark.)

The Ironman logo is tattooed on her ankle. She’s remained friends with the announcing team of Steve and Jean King, recently making a special trip here to visit the couple.

But that day in 1983 remains a defining moment in her life, one she can describe in detail from standing on the shores of Okanagan Lake to crossing the finish line. She’s never forgotten the kindness and generosity of the people here, starting with her billet family to the fans who lined the course.

“I’m just an ordinary Irish lass. I was never a seeded athlete. I don’t want to call it spiritual, but it was deep.

“Penticton is Ironman. When it moved up to Whistler (in 2013), it was a race. Penticton is a triathlon. There is a difference. Ironman has an identity with Penticton, the people here give it spirit, passion and love.”

She was thrilled when Mayor John Vassilaki made the official announcement that Ironman was returning only to be heartbroken when COVID cancelled the event.

“It’s sad, I feel for everyone who is affected by the cancellation.”

It is rumoured that several locals are headed to Okanagan Lake before dawn, Sunday, to complete the course on their own on the day that would have been Ironman 2020.

Lynch won’t be one of them, but her spirit will certainly be there.

James Miller is managing editor of The Penticton Herald. Email: james.miller@ok.bc.ca