John Collins’ concept for a grueling endurance competition all started from a discussion over which athlete was fittest – a swimmer, a runner, or a cyclist. The Commander’s idea of merging the disciplines swimming, running, and cycling in one continuous race was not easily accepted in the beginning.
The Collins family’s turn
The year was 1978 in Hawaii. It wasn’t uncommon for families of U.S. military forces stationed in the state to take charge of organizing local athletic events in the area as well as participate in the races themselves. During this time, it was the Collins family’s turn to stage a competition.
A date is finally set
Military and local athletes would often ask Commander Collins about when they’d finally do the “three-part thing”. Continued urging from colleague Dan Hendrickson, so that one of their distance runner friends scheduled to leave the state can join, was ever present too. Also, the fact that it was his family’s turn to organize an athletic event further convinced Commander Collins to finally stage Ironman in Hawaii. It was to be on February 18, 1978, to be held on the third largest island of Oahu.
Commander Collins, together with his wife Judy, and children Michael and Kristin who were only 13 and 12 then, started the groundwork for the event. Race supplies and materials were procured. Commander Collins also designed his very own trophy for the winners which the entire family helped assemble from scratch.
Participants were asked to prepare their own bicycle helmets for the competition. They were asked to provide their own t-shirts for the race as well. Days before the event, the shirts were collected and brought to the Collins residence for printing. There they stamped the logo and other details of the competition on the shirts using the silk screen that Commander Collins made himself. Of course, “Finisher” wasn’t yet printed on as this was to be added post-race.
On the eve of the event, the Collins family distributed electrolyte powder to the athletes. On race morning, 18 folks showed up at the designated starting area in the beach. The participants were each given a three-page handwritten briefing detailing competition rules and race course. On the last page was slogan “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life”.
Of the 18 that were drawn to the race, three decided not to pursue, according to Commander Collins. Of the 15, three failed to finish the race. The official results of the Hawaii Ironman, as the event is known today, records 12 finishers, with Gordon Haller, a Communications Specialist of the U.S. Navy, declared as the first ever Ironman in history.