12/01/2012 - The name of Kenneth Gasque is instantly recognisable when it comes to sporting activities in Lanzarote. Kenneth is the Danish man who brought the famous Ironman triathlon to the island and he has been a key figure at Club La Santa, Lanzarote´s unique sports and holiday resort, since its inception.
Club La Santa was the brainchild of Danish man Willy Bechmann, the business partner of fellow countryman Ejlif Krogager who was a priest. When Willy, Ejlif and their fellow Dane Kenneth Gasque came to Lanzarote in 1983 to open the place they decided clearly what the concept for the resort should be.
Club La Santa opened for business on June 22nd 1983 and 28 years later the idea of ´the perfect vacation´ still remains a key ideology for the renowned complex. Before his death in January 1992, Ejlif had gone on to take over the idea conjured up by Willy and the resort is still under Danish control today, run by Ejlif´s daughter and grandchildren. Kenneth remains a key figure at Club La Santa in his role as Sports Promoter and Events Director and the principle established by the men all those years ago is still going strong in 2011.
Sitting and talking to him at the pool bar, although I was already familiar with many of the things he has done I instantly got the feeling upon meeting him that here was a man with experiences which would make fascinating hearing. The only concern was how many of them we would have time to fit in! Kenneth is a wonderfully unique man to speak to, this rare charm is reflected in his distinctive appearance and demeanor, sporting a ponytail and with a respectful smile for all who he meets. He recalled numerous tales throughout our interview as we delved into his personal experiences, as well as his outlook on his many ventures, including the setting for our talk of course, Club La Santa.
"Club La Santa is for everyone, not only professionals," Kenneth said. "We have offers but we don´t put pressure on the customer, we give them the opportunity. We have changed Lanzarote to a sports destination island as this is what the travel agents now describe the place as."
The making of the man
With over 25 different sports included in the resort, Club La Santa prides itself on being the very best destination of its kind. The picturesque surroundings are, with all due respect, somewhat of a far cry from Kenneth´s hometown back in Denmark. He was born in 1950 in Hundested, a small town in the northern part of the island of Zealand, in the eastern region of Denmark.
"The climate in Lanzarote is different of course and it is easier to be positive here. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you have snow then you can ski and that is something different but if you live in a place where you have five months of constant grey weather it is not so good."
Kenneth had a stint in the Army earlier in his life and it was during this time that he also had the opportunity to study a subject area which has gone on to play a significant role in his life.
"I was a Royal Guard in the Army and studied at the Military Academy For Physical Education. The qualification I gained is the same as a degree in Physical Education and you can use it in universities, schools and the Army."
The growth of Ironman
While competing in the Ironman competition in Hawaii in 1985, he had a brainwave which would ultimately lead to the birth of the event in Lanzarote.
"I was the first Dane racing there in Hawaii and I thought everything is so beautiful here but why does there need to be such complicated travelling?"
Ironman was brought to the island by Kenneth in 1992 and had its 20th Lanzarote competition in May this year, with German Timo Bracht winning this year´s male category and Rachel Joyce of Great Britain triumphing from the female competitors.
"The Spanish Federation was only five years young when Ironman first started here and it was very hard in the early years for the event. Things grow however and we now have a contract negotiated which is inclusive of three more years of Ironman. We negotiate a contract every three or four years and from next year we will also have a half-triathlon called Ironman 70.3, which refers to the number of miles involved."
It was announced in June that Ironman will now also take place in New York and New Jersey with this edition of the competition scheduled for August 11th 2012. Kenneth last participated in Ironman in Hawaii in 2005 and he believes the old adage of ´it´s the taking part that counts´, something Club La Santa are keen to promote and which can also be applied to Ironman.
"It´s not about being number one, Ironman is something for yourself. You don´t train without a dream and everybody who finishes has a story. The finish line is the main place where most men cry, outside of their children being born."
So just how much preparation is required for such a grueling physical and emotional battle?
"I recommend starting with five to seven hours per week and then gradually building it up. Fifteen hours per week is the amount I recommend or more if your body can take it and you have the time to do it."
Kenneth has fond memories of his last experience of competing in the event, the aforementioned Hawaii Ironman in 2005 which he recalls with a laugh.
"I did very well, I finished. I had a fantastic day and felt good, there were many funny experiences. I passed an old lady at one point and then later on she actually passed me! The first Ironman I did in 1985 in Hawaii is one of my most memorable, as well as the year a local girl won. A Spanish girl and a Danish man won one year so that was a perfect day for me."
Honoured by the island
Kenneth is also responsible for events such as Ocean Lava Lanzarote Triathlon, Lanzarote Wine Run and the Lanzarote Music Marathon.
"For the Music Marathon we have a 10 kilometre event and also a half marathon, a quarter marathon and one-eighth of a marathon. You can either walk or run, or do it in a wheelchair, everyone is welcome. Music is performed by the best bands on the island as the participants go around the course."
The 2011 Music Marathon takes place on October 22nd in Puerto del Carmen and each year features a finish line festival where the bands play and participants and families can enjoy the music. There is a half-mile event included for children aged between four and nine as well as a one-mile course for ten-to-sixteen-year-olds. Part of Music Marathon´s proceeds will be donated to Kiki´s Children Home Nepal, Niños del Tercer Mundo, Sister Anna´s Soup Kitchen and Tri W.W.W. The Lanzarote Rotary Club awarded Kenneth the Conejero del Año award for his contribution to the island, making him the first foreign recipient.
"It is a great honour but it is always very difficult to receive things, I find it is easier to give. It is a bigger honour for my family, my mother is so proud and everyone in the town she lives in knows about the award now!"
Club La Santa owns the license of Ironman Lanzarote and also organises the race and Kenneth´s duties are much the same for each of the competitions he is responsible for. "It is very important to keep good relationships with the people involved in organising the events and to respect their work and to respect them as people. I apply for the permission and secure everything like the material and the manpower we need for every day of the competitions. We have to make sure it goes as good as possible with money and apply for police and security, as well as transportation."
Love amongst the Ironman pain
The race course for Ironman has actually been the starting point in a past year´s competition for a fascinating story reminiscent of a fairytale, as Kenneth recalls.
"There was a man from Switzerland biking in Ironman one year and a girl from Spain also on the course. They passed each other on the biking course and then met again later in the running. At the prize giving presentation they were sat on the same table as each other. They fell in love and moved to Switzerland and are now married with children, so they were Ironman babies!"
Of course there are a huge amount of people at various levels who are involved in the organising of a competition such as Ironman and Kenneth gives credit to some of those names. "There are many girls in the office who correspond to athletes, Isabelle the marketing lady, the Canarian press. There are the practical guys who build the areas up for the swimming, biking and running, I am not sure of the exact number but there are more than 3000 volunteers who get involved in the organising of all the different competitions."
Kenneth first came to live in Lanzarote in April 1983, two months prior to the opening of Club La Santa, and he now resides in Los Mojones, Puerto del Carmen. He lives with his wife Annelis, 65, also from Denmark, Annelis´ children Jeanette and Rene, and his son Claus. The couple have four grandchildren and Kenneth has two other children back in Denmark. Although acknowledging that his grasp of the Spanish language is ´not good´, he can understand enough of the native tongue. As someone who has visited many places in his life but in his own words is ´not a global traveller´ Kenneth has certainly found the place for him and his family in Lanzarote.
"I was not open enough when I first came here but the people are very friendly and they accept you. It is different because there are many islands with palm trees but not like Lanzarote with the volcanoes. When you learn the island you see certain beautiful things differently in the Spring and you say to tourists ´can you see the green?´, but because they are not here the whole year they don´t see it."
The best about to get better
Club La Santa is inundated with activities on a daily basis, classes include aerobics, circuit training, fitball, yoga and pilates. The site has a hugely impressive array of facilities with 5-a-side football pitches, a 50-metre leisure and Olympic pool, a full athletics track, exercise rooms and a gym. Also included are sports halls, a wellness centre, a lagoon for windsurfing and kayaking, as well as courts for basketball and beach volleyball. Kenneth hails the proliferation of things to take part in and believes this has contributed to making the island extremely special in this sense.
"There is nowhere in the world that has the same number of activities in this space and for this population. There are so many activities every weekend for the people to participate in."
Bringing fresh opportunity to Lanzarote is a continuous theme for Club La Santa and plans for a new complex are set to provide a huge boost for the people of the island.
"We have a model for the new Club La Santa on the screen in reception and we hope that will be done in 2013. It will bring more apartments and sports facilities and more employment opportunities for many more people on the island."
Although I was here to learn all about what Kenneth had to tell me, he always exudes that he wants to hear about you as well. This was evident at the end of the interview when he told me to make sure I took part in a triathlon in the next few years as we talked about the back problem that has put my usual running routine on hold in recent months. Kenneth is a man who it is impossible not to respect, due in no small part to the way he reciprocates that to those he meets.
Club La Santa will always hold the ideologies set out by Ejlif, Willy and Kenneth all those years ago and it is clear to see how engrained they are in the resort. Kenneth continues to play a crucial role in the very fibre of Lanzarote as a whole, although as I found when we discussed him winning the Conejero del Año award, the man himself would be too modest to admit it!