Since 1996, Whit Raymond’s voice has been guiding athletes from the start of the XTERRA World Championship all the way to the finish line. From sunrise to well after the last competitor crosses the line, Whit informs athletes, engages the crowds, and shares his deep knowledge of both triathlon and the competitors, who are out there battling each other, but mostly themselves.
And it doesn’t end with the race. Whit is also the Master of Ceremonies for the “Night of Champions” Dinner on Friday evening and the Awards Dinner on Sunday night.
“I don’t know where he gets the energy from to host the nighttime functions on Maui after announcing all day,” said XTERRA president, Janet Clark. “But there’s Whit in his funky wigs, jumping around and pumping up the crowd.”
There is no doubt that Whit is all in from dusk until dawn, whether it’s the first pro crossing the line or the last amateur, hours later. As a result, Whit’s voice has become the voice of the XTERRA World Championship.
Yet, despite his ability to rally crowds of people and inspire huge fields of athletes, Whit’s biggest skill may be to keep athletes calm, focused, and centered before they begin the race of their lives. At the starting line, as athletes adjust their goggles, bounce on their toes, and nervously watch the helicopters hovering overhead, Whit’s voice reassures them and keeps their feet planted in the sand.
“Welcome gentlemen to your XTERRA World Championship,” he says in his even cadence, just one minute before the amateur men’s start. “Have fun out there – this is your race.”
Clearly, he gets it – the hours of training, the courage to enter one of the toughest XTERRAs in the world, and the vulnerability to lay it all on the line on race day. Whit’s iconic welcome lets athletes know that someone is in charge of seeing them through to the finish.
“It’s natural to be freaking out at the start,” says Whit. “These guys have been training for months for this race, and it’s my job to not waste that energy but to help them harness it for the journey ahead of them.”
Whit knows because he has been there. A talented triathlete in the early days of the sport, he’s competed in seven Ironman (five in Kona) and was the Hawaii Volcano Marathon Champ. When he was 40, Whit was the first amateur at XTERRA Half Moon Bay. On the roads, he’s run a 15:38 5K, and a 32:30 10K after a 40K bike.
Whit grew up on the east coast, in the relatively sedate area of Main Line, near Philadelphia. After he graduated from high school in 1977, he jumped into his VW Bug and headed to Arizona to work for his uncle, the renowned architect, Paolo Soleri.
He studied aviation at Cochise College and earned his pilots’ license before transferring to the University of Arizona in 1982, where he studied Japanese. In his final year, he went to Japan, where he was part of an exchange program at the Kansai University of Foreign Studies.
After graduation, Raymond stayed in Japan for another two years, enjoying and learning the culture in the vibrant city of Osaka and becoming fluent in both formal and conversational Japanese.
In 1986, a friend told Whit about triathlon, which was rapidly gaining popularity.
“I didn’t understand what triathlon was but I rode my bike around Japan a lot,” said Whit. “One day I bumped into another American guy who used to be a buff weightlifter but now was thin and fit. He was like, ‘Dude I’m doing triathlon now.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’”
Later that year, Whit competed in his first ever triathlon, which was labeled “international” because he and an athlete from France were participating. No one was more surprised than Whit when he finished second overall, barely losing the lead to an elite Japanese athlete in the final meters of the race.
In his fourth Triathlon – Ironman Japan – Whit finished 12th and qualified for Ironman Hawaii.
“They said, ‘Hey, you qualified for the World Championship in Hawaii.’ I didn’t know anything about that. I had already been in Japan for three years and was ready to move on, so I thought, ‘Oh, OK, let’s go to Hawaii.’”
While living in Hawaii, it became clear that Whit’s ability to speak Japanese was on par with his athletic talents. In 1987, Ironman asked Whit to assist the Japanese athletes, give the race brief in Japanese, and work with the Japanese media.
“I still don’t know why they picked me,” said Whit “They could have hired some high school kid from Kona, but they put me up for the week and I still did the race, so it was a great gig. Back then, there was no email and no Google. I had to call people up and coordinate everything, which was great because I love talking to people.”
By 1993, he had competed in Ironman Hawaii five times. Instead of racing that year, he was hanging out with his 14-month old daughter by the pier.
“One of the race directors found me and asked what I was doing during the race,” says Whit. “I said I was just going to watch, and he asked if I could help with some announcing.”
Despite Whit’s lack of experience and the sheer length of the race, announcing felt effortless.
“The first year was one of my most favorites,” he says. “It was just easy. It was fun and the day went by so quickly. I thought if I’m not participating, then I’d love to help.”
By 1996, when XTERRA put on the first World Championship race in Maui, Whit was already well-known for his energy, professionalism, and ease with Japanese athletes. For Dave Nicholas, one of the XTERRA founders, Whit was his top choice to announce the inaugural XTERRA World Championship.
“Whit was so much fun when he was speaking Japanese and the people from Japan adored him,” remembers Nicholas. “The XTERRA in Maui in 1996 was the first one we ever produced. Look at the names in that first race – Scott Tinley, Michellie Jones, Mike Pigg – all hero men and women from the road. Whit knew triathlon and he knew the Ironman and Olympic Distance pros. From the start, Whit was a consummate professional. He does his homework before the race and he is tireless day or night.”
“I was thrilled to be part of XTERRA from the get-go,” says Whit. “At that first AquaTerra, you could immediately tell it was something special. You knew it was going to be tough and dirty, and the energy was off the charts. You had great roadies like Jimmy Riccitello and Michellie Jones facing off against professional mountain bikers like Shari Kain. I knew I needed to do something different there to match that energy.”
“It is all Whit’s fault that we fell in love with this sport,” said Clark. “Our first “XTERRA” was called “AquaTerra” – and he was our first announcer at Wailea in 1996. He came up with a way of saying the name that was gritty and fit the sport perfectly….”Ahkwaaaa…Terrrraaaaa….”
Janet admits that it still blows her mind to hear Whit transition between Japanese and English so effortlessly.
“When we first started XTERRA Trail Runs, they were called ‘scrambles,’ like XTERRA Saipan Scramble” says Janet. “We asked Whit how to say that in Japanese and he came up with, ‘Scccrrrrumble!’ It was perfect and you can still hear him say that today.”
“I have a certain way of doing things,” admits Whit. “I love the sport and I’m in it because I love it. If that comes out of me, that’s great. If I can make people feel good, that’s even better. I know what it feels like to be out there and I hope they can feel the passion of what I’m doing.”