Youghal Ironman: Memorial service for Canadian who died during competition hears how he turned ‘tragedy into triumph’

Ivan Chittenden (64) took up marathons and Ironman races after death of first wife in 2011 when he was in his 50s

A memorial service for Ivan Chittenden, a 64-year-old Canadian athlete who died during an Ironman competition in Youghal, Co Cork, has heard how he turned tragedy into triumph by becoming an elite athlete in his 50s following the death of his first wife.

The “celebration of life” took place at 4pm local time, 9pm in Ireland, on Saturday evening in Mount Pleasant Funeral Centre in Toronto.

A cremation service for Mr Chittenden previously took place in the Rocky Island Crematorium in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork.

Mr Chittenden’s memorial service heard of a life that extended beyond sporting achievements, although his journey into the world of sport was described as an inspiration for those who knew him closely.


Lisa Bentley, an eleven-time Ironman Champion and Mr Chittenden’s coach, said he first showed up after the death of his wife, Diane, in 2011.

“He used his loss to find a new life and taught us that you can teach an old dog new tricks and pick up a brand new sport in your fifties,” she said.

Ms Bentley said she witnessed Mr Chittenden’s transformation from a rookie to a veteran in just eighteen months, observing his growing confidence and self-esteem.

“Even though I was the teacher, I was also the student,” she said.

Mr Chittenden completed his first Ironman event in 2013 and eventually participated in several competitions worldwide. He also participated in all six prestigious World Marathon Majors in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City, and Tokyo.

An overachiever even as a child, Mr Chittenden’s elder brother, Roger, talked about his early life, from playing football in high school to strumming Neil Young’s songs on his guitar.

“Teachers recommended advanced programs in schools across town, but he wouldn’t go. He had a bunch of friends; he was just one of the guys.”

His brother said he would never delete his final text message. “Lately, Ivan and I had been keeping in touch via text messages. Basically, it was, ‘Where are you this time?’ The final message changed at the end of June. I asked if he’s running any good marathons lately. He replied that he’s doing an Ironman race in Ireland in August. So yeah, I’m never deleting that message from my phone.”

“The internet may forever know him as an elite athlete. But we feel lucky to have known for a lot more than that.”

According to Roger, Mr Chittenden went on to support himself through his higher education at Wilfrid Laurier University before ending up at Ernst and Young (EY) immediately after his graduation.

Paula Smith, a close friend and work colleague, shared insights into Mr Chittenden’s professional life, emphasising his dedication during his 42 years at EY.

“He retired in 2021 but couldn’t leave the firm,” she said.

“He continued to work as a consultant with the firm. He loved to help and solve problems. A typical phrase you’d hear around the office regarding a challenging technical matter would be, ‘Have you talked to Ivan? What does Ivan think?’”

Kellan McInnis, Mr Chittenden’s honorary nephew, fondly recalled Mr Chittenden’s caring nature, describing him as “the most patient person I’ve ever known”.

With a touch of humour, McInnis remembered his uncle’s role as a “medicinal drug mule” when he would return from the US with over-the-counter medications.

Throughout the memorial, Mr Chittenden’s friends and family celebrated his unwavering love for his second wife, Dr Siobhan Hyland, and his devotion to his stepchildren, Jack and Kate.

Stories emerged of a family man who relished hosting grand dinner parties and exploring the world. Laughter filled the room as anecdotes surfaced about his meticulously organised, temperature-controlled wine room, complete with labelled bottles.

“To say I’m going to miss Ivan is an understatement. I’m going to miss his hugs and miss feeling loved,” McInnis said.

Controversy currently surrounds the Ironman competition due to allegations that it was proceeding despite unsafe water conditions. The event also claimed the life of Brendan Wall (45) an Irish participant from Cardrath, Co Meath, who succumbed to a separate incident during the swim in August. The cause of both deaths is currently under investigation.