Triathlon is arguably the most heavily participated sport today. Its founders Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan certainly didn’t expect the sport to take off that successfully. After all, their main aim for staging the first modern triathlon was just to provide some variety to their track trainings. Even Hawaii Ironman creator John Collins was astonished with how popular the event has become.
Much like the above mentioned founders, the original Ironman competitors like Dave Orlowski (who now races for Team Timex) surely did not foresee that the fledgling sport he participated in 1978 would become the much anticipated event that it is today.
Who is Dave Orlowski?
A fitness enthusiast in his early 20s, Dave Orlowski found his way to the scenic island of Hawaii due to his job with the Marine Corps. In 1977, Orlowski was among the huge crowd that attended the awards ceremony of the Oahu Perimeter Relay. He would overhear the friendly argument over which athlete was fittest: the swimmer, the runner, or the cyclist.
Orlowski was present too when then-Commander Collins took to the stage during the intermission to issue the unlikely challenge to the crowd. Most laughed, but not Orlowski. In fact, he would go on to face up to this dare and become one of the original twelve finishers of the first ever Hawaii Ironman.
Race preparation for first Hawaii Ironman
As it would turn out, it would take months from the day then-Commander Collins issued the dare for the race to actually come into fruition. If not for the prodding of friends and colleagues, Hawaii Ironman would not have been staged in 1978.
But as soon as the 22-year old Orlowski knew that the event was a go, he immediately proceeded to get ready for the race. His training regimen consisted of regular running. An excellent swimmer specializing in distance events, he did two or three times of swimming weekly in the Marine Corps base as well, with each session totaling one to two miles.
A week prior to the event, Orlowski was lent a Sears Free Spirit bicycle by a fellow Marine. He trained on the equipment though rode no more than 30 miles on it. He figured that he had ridden a bicycle as a kid, so perhaps he won’t have such a hard time on the bike come race day.
For the support crew, Orlowski was able to solicit the help of fellow Marines. A vehicle was arranged as well to accompany him, dear friend Henry Forrest, as well as another Marine competitor throughout the course.
1978 Hawaii Ironman recollections
The weather that early Saturday morning in February 18, 1978 was very favorable. With hardly any ripples in the sea, the fifteen competitors took to the water to start the first leg of the race. Some competitors got nervous though for they spotted what seemed to be a shark in the clear water, which a mile into the swim later disappeared.
Prior to starting the bike leg, Orlowski changed into his bike and run gear – a pair of cut-off denim shorts. Figuring there’d be no definite time when he’d see the support vehicle, he needed somewhere to put his money so that he could easily stop at stores along the course to buy his nourishment. So he cut a good pair of blue jeans to have something to wear with pockets in them.
Fairly inexperienced with the bike, the second portion of the race was difficult for him. But he slogged through and finished the 122-mile ride. At the marathon, he resorted to walking for he couldn’t find his legs. Four miles into the run, he got his stride back. Through the bike and run legs, he would stop at gas stations and a McDonald’s to get himself some food.
As he was cresting Diamond Hill, his leg cramps started to become very severe that he needed to hold at the guardrails along the road just so he could heave himself up. Then his support crew showed up and from it emerged his parents who flew to Oahu just to see him race. It turned out this was all the motivation he needed. He found his strength again and from there basically ran the entire length to the finish line. He would subsequently place third, clocking in a time of 13 hours, 39 minutes, and 13 seconds.