Famous Triathletes: Dave Orlowski

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.

Dave Orlowski(image via www.slowtwitch.com)

Dave Orlowski
(image via www.slowtwitch.com)

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.


Original Ironman Dave Orlowski

Ironmanlife: Dave Orlowski Remembers Henry Forrest

Famous Triathletes: Don Shanahan

Participating in the two prior Dave Pain Birthday Biathlons gave Jack Johnstone the inspiration to stage his very own multi-sport event. However, what he had in mind was to have more alternating runs and swims. Including the cycling leg was another man’s idea.

Who is Don Shanahan?

Don Shanahan moved to San Diego, California in 1972 as required by his job with the marines. A health buff very keen on running, Shanahan eventually joined the San Diego Track Club, one of the many track and field groups that emerged due to the explosion of the jogging craze in the early 1970s. Shanahan would later become one of the board members of the San Diego Track Club.

Introduced to cycling

Shanahan was nursing an injury from running. A sport buff through and through, this did not stop him from pursuing other sports. Through a friend, he got introduced to cycling which back then was not yet a popular discipline. Needless to say, he grew fond of the sport that he considered including it in a multi-sport race he was thinking of staging with the help of the SDTC.

Collaboration with Jack Johnstone

Still in the planning stages of the multi-sport race he was looking to conduct, Shanahan received a call from fellow SDTC member Jack Johnstone. Johnstone, at this time, had already conferred with Bill Stock, then in-charge of the club’s calendar of activities.

Pioneer triathletes Bill Phillips, Don Shanahan, and Jack Johnstone
(image via www.triathlonhistory.com)

Johnstone wanted to put the race he designed into the club’s calendar. Stock readily agreed though advised Johnstone to call Shanahan for the latter also had a unique concept for a race. Perhaps the two could incorporate their ideas into one so as not to have too many unusual races on the club’s official lineup of activities.

Johnstone, having no prior experience in competitive cycling, was not too keen on Shanahan’s idea of including a bike leg. But Johnstone nonetheless agreed and both proceeded to make the necessary arrangements for the competition.

Planning the very first modern triathlon

The event, which they dubbed the Mission Bay Triathlon, was finally set on September 25, 1974 and would consist of run-bike-run-swim-run legs. They then commissioned a short ad on the San Diego Track Club Newsletter, making sure to mention that competitors bring their own bikes. Since there were not too many races at that time, and given that the sporting community in the Pacific Beach area was very close-knit, it did not take long for word of the triathlon event to get out.

The two-man organizing team managed to pool volunteers to serve as lifeguards. Making sure the competitors’ shoes, which will surely be damp and smelly, will be at the starting line of every run leg, will be taken care of by an additional volunteer support crew which will comprise of Johnstone’s wife and other folks.

Staging the very first modern triathlon

On September 25, 1974, forty six enthusiastic competitors turned up. This surprised Shanahan and Johnstone. For one, they barely had a month to disseminate information regarding the event. Secondly, race day was on a weekday, and scheduled for late afternoon as well. Surely folks would be too tired from work to even bother showing up, much less race multiple legs of running, biking, and swimming.

Being on a very tight budget, the competition lacked logistics-wise. In fact, Shanahan had to make last minute arrangements and requested those with cars to turn their vehicles’ headlights on to provide light for those emerging from the last swim leg. But the event, considered the first ever modern triathlon in history, was a success. Bill Phillips, who won the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon, emerged victorious at the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

Don Shanahan Interview

Famous Triathletes: Jack Johnstone

The roots of the multi-discipline sporting arena were set firmly in 1972, thanks to San Diego-based lawyer Dave Pain. Of the handful of competitors who joined Pain’s Birthday Biathlons, one man named Jack Johnstone got the idea of staging his very own multi-sport event with more alternating legs and longer distances.

Who is Jack Johnstone?

Jack Johnstone is recognized today as the father of modern triathlon. During his college years, Johnstone was an All-American swimmer. But as is the case with many who go into their 30s, Johnstone too lost his optimum physical condition.

So in 1971, at 35 years old, Johnstone decided to get back into shape again and got into jogging. He ended up joining numerous competitive races afterwards. His involvement in San Diego’s very active and very dynamic sporting community eventually led him to Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon in 1973. This year was incidentally the second run of the said race and where Johnstone performed fairly in.

Jack Johnstone and Dave Pain circa 1975
(image via www.triathlonhistory.com)

A year later in 1974, Johnstone joined once more and this time got in the top ten. His improved performance during the second race further confirmed that multi-sport competitions were more to his liking. So he thought of coming up with his very own race too. However, he wanted to have some modifications to the biathlon that Dave Pain organized.

Devising the race course

Johnstone wanted to put equal focus on both swimming and running. And he considered putting more alternating legs, with each having longer distances, for he thought the previous biathlons were a tad shorter.

He finally set running as the first leg, followed by swimming, and then another run but this time on foot. So it was crucial that the location either have sand or grass suitable for running barefoot. Fortunately, the course used during Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon had the necessary elements so Johnstone proceeded to finalize his race course design.

Coordinating with the San Diego Track Club

Johnstone was with the SDTC, one of the many track clubs in the Pacific Beach community in San Diego, California. Back then, it was not unusual for the group’s members to devise their own races which fellow members would gamely compete in.

Upon completing the plan for the race course, Jonstone called Bill Stock who was then in-charge of the association’s calendar of activities. Stock readily agreed to put Johnstone’s race on the calendar.

Stock advised Johnstone to call Don Shanahan, a fellow SDTC member, for the latter had a similar idea for a race. Stock suggested incorporating both their ideas to minimize having too many unusual races on the calendar.

Plan for first ever modern triathlon finalized

Shanahan wanted to include a bike leg for the race. Though Johnstone was reluctant about the idea, he agreed nevertheless. The race, which the two dubbed the Mission Bay Triathlon, was finally set for September 25, 1974. A press release was featured via the club’s newsletter which read:

Run, Cycle, Swim: Triathlon Set for 25th

Necessary preparations like procuring trophies were made. Johnstone even had to confirm the spelling of the word “triathlon” to the trophy maker for the latter found no entry of said word in the dictionary.

First modern triathlon successfully staged

Race day was early evening after work. Though this was the case, it did not stop 46 enthusiastic competitors from trying out this new and peculiar three-discipline race. Shanahan, as a last minute solution, requested some car owners to get their vehicles’ headlights on to provide light specifically for the final swimming leg.

Johnstone of course just had to try out the course, which was manned by volunteers and Shanahan who was unable to compete because of an injury. The Mission Bay Triathlon, the first of its kind in history, was won by Bill Phillips, who as can be remembered, was the same fellow who dominated Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport


Famous Triathletes: Dave Pain

Multi-discipline sporting events were practically unheard of in the United States in the early 1900s. Except for a triathlon event consisting of the 100 yard dash, shot put, and long jump at the 1904 Summer Olympic Games staged in St. Louis, Missouri, there were no other competitions of this nature in the country.

But the multi-discipline sport arena will forever change when one man decides to stage a run-and-swim race for his friends for his 50th birthday.

Who is Dave Pain?

David Pain, a San Diego-based civil lawyer, is an avid sportsman. At age 44, Pain would scour the area for athletic competitions to participate in. Unfortunately, he would find none that would accommodate folks in his age group.

Dave Pain
(image via masterstrack.com)

Founding the masters miles

The lack of competitive sporting events inspired Pain to establish the masters miles in 1966. This way, athletes and avid health buffs aged 40 and over could compete in track and field races as well. Through Pain’s initiative, indoor and outdoor track meets got regularly organized in and around the San Diego area.

The emergence of the masters athletics

Pain’s masters miles became so widely popular that it drew many regular competitors. What started out as casual track meets among a group of avid sportsmen and women became a national sensation.

By 1968, roughly two years from the founding of the masters miles, a nationwide competition was staged that drew an impressive 186 competitors. A year later, 200 competitors raced at the masters nationals.

Pain’s advocacy was so successful that the masters athletics movement spread even through Europe and paved the way for the inclusion of the age group category. By 1972, Pain, along with his wife and over a hundred masters would travel through the UK, Germany, Finland, Sweden, among other European countries, to represent the USA in the international masters competition. This worldwide race would be held annually ever since.

First multi-sport race in the US

In 1972, Pain turned 50 years old. Instead of the usual birthday party, Pain thought of organizing a sporting event for all of his friends. He quickly considered including swimming for he himself was quite skilled at it. Everyone was into jogging back then too, so he thought to incorporate said discipline for the event as well.

The plan was to have a run leg of more than 4 miles all the way through Fiesta Island, capped off with a 200-yard swim through the deep estuary south of the Hilton, one of the landmark hotels along the Southern California coast.

Needless to say, the multi-sport event, which incidentally was the first of its kind outside of the Olympic Games arena in the US, was a big hit. It was dominated by Don Phillips.

Foundation of multi-discipline sport established

Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon was again staged the following year in 1973. Among the many competitors who joined was Jack Johnstone. Johnstone was an All-American swimmer in his college years. Like many folks in his 30s, he too got into the jogging craze to get back into shape again. He found the birthday biathlon a welcome variation to his monotonous jogging workouts. During his first try, he placed 14th.

He got so smitten with the race that he once again signed up in 1974. This time around, he got into the top ten. He got so inspired by his improved performance at the second race that it led him to consider coming up with his very own event. Johnstone’s idea was to conduct a longer race though. So he thought of adding a third leg.

Johnstone, along with Don Shanahan, will later organize the first ever modern triathlon race. If not for Dave Pain’s inspiration, the multi-discipline sport that we all love today would not have come into fruition.


Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

Masters athletics

History of Triathlon: 1974

Modern triathlon emerged relatively late. It’s not even in its 50-year mark yet, but it’s one of the most widely received sports in the world right now. In fact, no other sport is as extensively supported and participated in than triathlon.

Triathlon’s appeal is undeniable. Triathletes flock by the hundreds to local competitions, and by the thousands to international events. But have you ever wondered how this three-disciplined sports competition came about?

Jogging Craze

Jogging was all the rage in the 70s. Track clubs and meets were commonplace back then. This was especially the case in the Pacific Beach community in San Diego, California. Sports enthusiasts and fitness buffs would organize regular track competitions which were normally capped off with dips in the ocean to cool off.

San Diego Track Club

One of these clubs was the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). It wasn’t unusual for members to devise their own special races. They then enlist these on the club’s calendar of events to both inform and invite fellow members to participate.

Jack Johnstone

One of them was Jack Johnstone. He, like all the other health buffs then, was into jogging. He was once a university swimmer too. Having joined the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon the two prior years, Johnstone wanted to come up with a similar event.

Jack Johnstone and David Pain circa 1975 (via triathlonhistory.com)

However, he wanted to put equal focus on both swimming and running. Plus, he wanted to have multiple alternating legs, with each leg having longer distances than the biathlon he previously joined.

After designing his very own event, Johnstone spoke with SDTC’s Calendar Chairman Bill Stock. Stock agreed to put his event on the club’s calendar. Stock suggested that he call Don Shanahan as the latter also had an idea for a race.

Don Shanahan

Don Shanahan was one of the board members of the SDTC. Shanahan decided to engage in cycling as a cross training routine for when nursing running injuries. Shanahan’s idea for the race was to have a cycling leg after the biathlon.

Mission Bay Triathlon

Johnstone agreed to incorporate Shanahan’s idea and they decided to stage the competition on September 25, 1974. They ran a notice on SDTC’s newsletter which read “Run, Cycle, Swim: Triathlon Set for 25th.

Needless to say, the first ever modern triathlon event, the Mission Bay Triathlon, was a success. Though it was publicized just two weeks prior, and was done on a weekday evening, it drew an impressive 46 participants. It was won by Bill Phillips, the same fellow who previously dominated the Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon. John and Judy Collins, who years later established the Ironman Triathlon, had participated in the event as well.



What Is Your Triathlon History?

Story of the First Triathlon

San Diego – the birthplace of triathlon


History of Triathlon: 1972

Triathlon was a huge hit in France in the early 1900s through the 1920s. Reports of three-disciplined sports competitions being held once every year in various locations in the Paris region attest to the fame of the sport.

Such was not the case in the United States though. In fact, multi-sport competitions were practically unheard of until the 70s.


This year saw the staging of the first ever multi-sport competition in the country. It was dubbed Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon, a race consisting of run and swim legs.

David Pain

David Pain, a civil lawyer based in San Diego, is the distinguished founder of the masters athletics movement in the United States. Back then, sports competitions only had open age categories which typically cover young athletes up to the age of 30.

Finding no available athletic competitions for folks aged 40 and over, Pain organized masters miles in 1966 to encourage those in said age group to join and compete in indoor and outdoor track races.

The advocacy was such a success that it paved the way for the age-group category, to accommodate not just young sports enthusiast who fall under the open age group, but expert and veteran athletes as well.

Pain’s regular track meets with masters became quite popular that a nationwide competition was staged and brought together 186 competitors in 1968. A year after, 200 veteran athletes from around the country joined the nationals event.

Former U.S. Olympic coach Payton Jordan dominates the M80 age-group category for the 200 meter dash event during the 1997 U.S. National Masters Championships held in San Jose, CA.

In 1972, Pain, his wife Helen, along with 152 other masters, traveled across Europe to compete in short and long distance races. In 1973, the Pains along with 51 expert and veteran athletes went to compete once more in age-group competitions in the Oceania and the South Pacific regions.

Dave Pain Birthday Biathlon

In 1972, Pain invited his friends and colleagues to a race to celebrate his 50th birthday. The first leg was a run of more than 4 miles through the Fiesta Island. The second was a swim of more than 200 yards through the estuary south of the Hilton Hotel.

It was reported that Pain’s reason for choosing these two particular disciplines was because he was quite skilled at swimming, and that back then, everybody was into jogging.

Garnering the support of running and swimming enthusiasts, the competition was an instant success. It was won by Don Phillips, who can be more or less considered as the first winner of the first ever multi-sport competition to be organized and held in the United States.

Succeeding Years

Dave Pain’s Birthday Biathlon was staged again in 1973. Among the folks who joined was Jack Johnstone, recognized as one of the founders of the modern triathlon. According to Johnstone’s accounts, he may have placed 14th on the 1973 event.

Johnstone was so taken by the sport that he eagerly joined again on 1974. This time, he placed 10th. Johnstone’s modest performance in the game inspired him to come up with his own event, which he staged that same year with the help of Don Shanahan and their  friends and colleagues. This was to be the first ever modern triathlon in America.


Story of the First Triathlon

History of Triathlon Timeline

What Is Your Triathlon History?


Magill on Masters: The Paper Chase

Masters athletics

History of Triathlon: 1977

The staging of the first ever modern triathlon in Mission Bay in San Diego, California was a huge success. It didn’t stop 46 sports enthusiasts from joining even with only two weeks of notice and preparation, and the fact that the race was on an early Wednesday evening after work.

But the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon wasn’t only instrumental for bringing the sport to the public. It’s also significant because it was joined by a handful of people who will later play a crucial role in ushering triathlon to the world.

John Collins

John Collins, then a Commander of the U.S. Navy, lived in the San Diego area, specifically in Coronado. Commander Collins was well aware of the triathlons being conducted in and around San Diego. In fact, Commander Collins was among those who joined the 1974 and 1975 Mission Bay triathlons conducted by the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). He also participated in the 1975 triathlon which was started by Stan Antrim, an ex Navy frogman who was then the master swim coach of the Coronado Optimist Swim Club.

John Collins (image via www.ironman.com)

Participation in the first bona fide triathlon

Commander Collins, along with his wife Judy, and their children Michael and Kristin, then 13 and 12 respectively, were among the 46 folks who were drawn to the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon.

According to Jack Johnstone, one of the organizers of the said event, Commander Collins’ name wasn’t in the official results published in the SDTC newsletter. Also there wasn’t anyone listed in the 35th place.

Jonstone, having discovered that Judy was Commander Collins’ wife, thought it highly likely that the latter might just be the unlisted participant. Johnstone called him to ask whether he was in the race, which he confirmed. This prompted Johnstone to list Commander Collins in the 35th place.

January 1977

Commander Collins was by this time assigned in Hawaii. He and his family joined in the sporting events regularly held in the island. On the awarding ceremonies of the Oahu Perimeter Run, Commander Collins was present and was seated with his friends and colleagues. They engaged in their usual argument of who was in overall greater shape – runners or swimmers.

Commander Collins then said that cyclists might just be the healthiest among athletes as he read from an article that Belgian professional cyclist Eddy Merckx had the highest VO2 max.

An outrageous idea for a race

Commander Collins suggested that they combine all three disciplines in one race to finally see who indeed was fittest. After all, there was the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 26.219-mile Honolulu Marathon, and the 115-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race which they could easily merge.

Most of the folks in the table came from and knew of the San Diego triathlons so they welcomed what then was still an outrageous idea. Prompted by the positive response, Commander Collins went up the stage to suggest the concept for a new endurance event. He said that as soon as the gun goes off, participants will commence the race, and whoever gets to the finish line first will be named the Ironman.

In an interview conducted by Nick Munting with Commander Collins, the Commander states that his suggestion “… got a really good laugh at the time!” However, many of the local as well as military athletes looked forward to the “three-part thing,” as how they’d refer to the race idea. So while many thought Commander Collins’ suggestion was outrageous, it’s undeniable that his concept for an endurance race has now become a huge success.


Story of the First Triathlon

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins


What Is Your Triathlon History?