This is a little piece I wrote last year about Kona. I look so forward to the TV broadcast every year. It's this Saturday on NBC at 2:30PM Mountain.
Thirty two years ago, 15 men of questionable sanity stood on a beach in Honolulu, Hawaii for the first running of what will become the Holy Grail of the sport of triathlon, the Hawaii Ironman. The race was created from the debate of who was more fit: swimmers, cyclists or runners? Navy Commander John Collins, the founder of this madness called Ironman, suggested that the debate be settled by combining three existing long distance events already on the Island, a 2.4 mi./3.86 km swim, a 112 mi./180 km bike ride and a 26.2 mi./42.2 km run (the marathon). Some history suggests that Ironman was born out of a beer fuelled bar bet. That would have been easy to believe because someone must have been pretty blasted to dream up something like that and even deeper down the bottle to agree to take part in it. Nonetheless, those 15 guys showed up, hungover or not, and Ironman was born. Of the 15 who started, 12 finished. The winner was Navy man Gordon Haller in a time of 11 hours and 46 minutes. Second place finsher, Navy SEAL John Dunbar, was leading off the bike but faded after running out of water. His support crew gave him beer instead.
Ironman has so many crazy and inspiring stories in its past. Before the 17 hour cutoff was instituted, Walt Stack took over 26 hours to finish the race in 1982. Why so long? Well, he rode on a single speed bike and he stopped at a waffle house for breakfast before finishing the race. Also in 1982, Julie Moss had the lead with 500 metres to go when her legs gave out forcing her to crawl the last 15 metres to the finish line. Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham tried to outcrawl each other for 4th and 5th place in 1997. There’s a great clip of it on youtube. Then there is the “Ironwar” between Dave Scott and Mark Allen in 1989. Dave Scott was “The Man” at Ironman through the 1980’s winning six times. Mark Allen had always finished just behind Scott in those races. He figured that the only way to beat him was to stay right on his shoulder for the whole race. It is very rare that in race as long as Ironman, you get two guys side by side for the whole race but that’s just what he did. The strategy paid off and Mark Allen finally beat Dave Scott.
My favorite Ironman story is about Dick and Ricky Hoyt. They were a father and son team who did Ironman together. Ricky was born with so many birth defects that the doctors told Dick to institutionalize him because he would be nothing but a vegetable. Dick knew different and was determined that Ricky would be able to do almost anything other kids could. His determination paid off as Ricky attended public school and graduated from University in 1993. Dick’s determination to include Ricky included sports too. Dick started running and pushed Ricky in a modified wheelchair. That led to them competing in Hawaii. They would swim with Dick pulling Ricky in a rubber boat attached to Dick by a bungee cord. Then they would bike on a two seater bike, with Ricky sitting in a seat on the front of the bike. Hardly aerodynamic. Then, Dick would push Ricky in a wheelchair for the marathon. They finished under 16 hours. You would have to see it to believe it. There’s a clip on youtube called “CAN”. I challenge you not to cry.
I have never been to Kona either as an athlete or a spectator. I have vowed in print some years previous to this that I would someday qualify for the Hawaii Ironman. That will take some doing. My fastest time at Ironman Canada was almost a whole hour slower than the last qualifier in my age group. I figure that if I keep racing, I can maybe qualify when I’m 60. I sure hope it happens sooner than that but that’s how tough it is to get to Kona. So why try to do something that difficult? As JFK said of putting a man on the moon, “We do these things not because they’re easy but because they are hard.” I can hardly wait to cross that finish line in Kona. I often visualize myself running through the carpeted finishing chute, high fiving spectators. I can almost feel the heat and the excitement in the crowd. It will be worth all the hard work that I will have to put into it.
What is your Hawaii Ironman? What is that thing that you want to accomplish? Is it a triathlon? Is it being able to run around the block without throwing up? Is it quitting smoking or losing weight? Whatever it is, take up the challenge. It won’t be easy but what in life is? Taking on that challenge will make all those other life challenges seem trivial. Cleaning out the garage will be a walk in the park compared to fighting off that urge to inhale that can of Pringles. The thing is, we are capable of doing great things for ourselves and our family if we put our minds to it. If Dick Hoyt can, can’t you?