Famous Triathletes: Tom Knoll

Back when the Ironman was conceptualized, folks who heard the idea thought it was outrageous. Who would have thought that years later, it would become such a popular event that even acquiring slots for the race would become difficult. But as with any remarkable event, Hawaii Ironman too started small. Among those who have a significant part in its humble beginnings is Tom Knoll.

Tom Knoll(image via www.the-two-malcontents.com)

Tom Knoll
(image via www.the-two-malcontents.com)

Who is Tom Knoll?

Tom Knoll was with the United States Marine Corps when he got acquainted with triathlon. Prior to his introduction to the sport, he was already very much into running. In his 40s in the early 1970s, Knoll would join younger Marines during their 10-mile lunch runs. He grew so fond of the sport that he would eventually run hundred-mile distances, a discipline which has come to be known as ultrarunning.

Race preparation for first Hawaii Ironman

Knoll, much like fellow original Ironman Dave Orlowski, was among those present during the awarding ceremony of the Oahu Perimeter Relay in 1977 where then-Commander John Collins famously challenged them for a three-part race. Being so used to grueling races, Knoll did not think twice about joining the competition.

As it would turn out, however, it would take quite long for the event to really materialize. But as soon as the go signal for the race was given, Knoll was among those who, without second thought, signed up. And to prepare for the three-discipline event, he would train in all three sports every single day months prior to the scheduled February 18, 1978 race.

Race day of first Hawaii Ironman

Race day of the first ever Ironman couldn’t be more favorable. The sea was calm though the competitors were a little anxious during the first leg for some saw what looked like a shark in the water at the start of the swim. Most of the competitors slogged through the second portion of the race as the majority were not that experienced with the bike. Knoll, for his part, took the swimming and bike legs in a slow but steady pace. Because of this strategy, he performed quite well in the third leg, having the third best finish in the marathon. Overall, he placed sixth, though he was at least a decade older than the other competitors.

Post-Ironman endeavors

After participating in the inaugural Ironman, Knoll returned to his first love – ultrarunning. He would go on to use his unlikely hobby to help raise funds for causes he feels so strongly for. It all started way before the Ironman, actually, when he was asked for a donation by a charity back in 1976. Instead of handing out money, he organized a charity run. He ended up raising $500 for his effort, a sum that was far bigger than he could have ever given upfront.

In 2008, he did the Freedom Run Across America with his son Warren. Fellow original Ironman Dave Orlowski ran with them during the first three days of this endeavor, proceeds of which went to a handful of institutions like the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) co-founded by Bob Babbitt.

In October of that same year, Knoll flew to Kailua Kona to return Orlowski’s support. Orlowski was coming back for the first time to the race after his participation in the 1978 Hawaii Ironman. Orlowski was as well dedicating his run to dear friend Henry Forrest, who at that time, managed to still fly from Georgia to Hawaii though he was already battling pancreatic cancer. Barely a month after this, Forrest sadly succumbed to the dreaded disease.

In 2011, Knoll reached his goal of raising one million dollars for his chosen charitable institutions. But he’s not stopping yet. In fact, he’s preparing for yet another cross-country run scheduled for 2013.

Sources:

Original Ironman Tom Knoll Raises $1 Million for Charity

Original Ironman Tom Knoll

Famous Triathletes: Bob Babbitt

Triathlon events always bring together a mixed bunch of folks. Some are there for the fame and the monetary rewards, while there are those who join to satisfy their curiosity about this very popular sport. But regardless of personal backgrounds or motivations for joining, one thing seems to be common among those who join triathlons, and that is this: having the guts to attempt to conquer the most difficult of elements, and come out a better person in the end.

One of those who were changed forever for the better by the sport of triathlon is Bob Babbitt.

Bob Babbitt(image via www.usatriathlon.org)

Bob Babbitt
(image via www.usatriathlon.org)

Who is Bob Babbitt?

Bob Babbitt was a Physical Education teacher who moved from Chicago, Illinois to San Diego, California in 1978. In late 1979, he read Barry McDermott’s piece on Tom Warren in the Sports Illustrated magazine. He got so inspired by the story of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman champion as well as the other athletes featured that he wanted to give the event a try as well.

Preparing for the 1980 Hawaii Ironman

Back then, there were hardly any books about race training and nutrition. Though jogging was in full swing, thanks to folks like Dave Pain who helped launch running as a sport, folks who wanted to learn more about the ins and outs of athleticism on their own had no reliable materials they could turn to.

Because this was the case, Babbitt immediately considered approaching Warren. No other individual would be more qualified than him to teach Babbitt how to train for the event. Warren was after all the 1979 Ironman.

So Babbitt called Warren, and was able to convince the latter to mentor him and roommate Ned Overend. Babbitt and Overend trained furiously for the upcoming January 10, 1980 Ironman to be held in the island of Oahu. They would do hundreds of laps in a 15-meter apartment pool just so they could cover the 2.4-mile swim required for the event.

They each bought a bike, and his was from a police auction, complete with a charred seat end. Because he had no idea how to change a flat tire, he outfitted his new secondhand bike with solid rubber tires.

His first Hawaii Ironman race

Babbitt flew with Overend and their support crew to Hawaii. He sincerely thought that he was going to do the race for two days so he brought a tent and sleeping bag with him.

January is storm month in Oahu. Days prior to the event, the organizers decided to move the swim leg to the protected Ala Moana Channel because the site for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim was too perilous. Fairly inexperienced in open and deepwater swimming, Babbitt made sure to swim at the shallow portion of the channel and somehow splashed out of the water unscathed.

He would proceed to do the second portion of the race donning a pair of beige shorts with a belt, and a long-sleeved shirt with pockets sewn at the back to store bags of Hawaiian sweet bread, his race food of choice. He’d slog through the bike which he’d rigged with a transistor radio on its fuzzy handlebars just so he’d have company during the long ride. He fitted it with panniers too to carry his tent and sleeping bag.

Through the race, he’d be fed by his crew with Big Mac, fries, and Coke, as well as a snow cone. He’d even gotten a 45-minute massage. His marathon was practically all walking and when he got weighed at one of the med stations, the aide was astonished that he’d gained instead of lost a few pounds, due to all the Hawaiian sweet bread he’d eaten.

Nearing the finish line, he couldn’t believe that he was able to do the race in one whole day. He expected to see crowds of people and a brass band to cheer and welcome his momentous finish. But all he saw ahead was a light bulb and the finish line drawn in chalk on the pavement. The official who was there asked him if he was part of the race, to which he replied a positive, in turn receiving a brisk reply that he’d completed the race.

Contributions to the multisport arena

Anticlimactic as the finish was, the race forever changed Babbitt’s life. He would go on to co-establish a magazine, the Competitor, dedicated solely to multi-sports. He would also later assist in putting up Competitor Radio, which to this day, is the premier source for multi-sport news in the broadcasting media. He would also create the Brooks Muddy Buddy Ride and Run Series which features fun obstacle races for the family and for folks who are just looking to unwind.

Babbitt would also become one of the founding directors of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) which assists folks with disabilities pursue their athletic dreams. Babbitt would also be later inducted to the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2002 and to the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2012.

Sources:

Running Down Memory Lane: 25 Years of Competitor

Bob Babbitt: Triathlon’s Greatest Ambassador, Ironman’s Spirited Soothsaye

Funky dude Bob Babbitt

More insight into Bob Babbitt

In the beginning there was Bob Babbitt

WTC Honors Bob Babbitt with Ironman Hall of Fame Induction