Famous Triathletes: Henry Forrest

The Hawaii Ironman is undoubtedly one of the most special multi-sport races in the world right now. And this isn’t only because it’s a grueling competition, but more so because of the folks who take part in it year after year. Each has a rousing story or two of perseverance. And one of the folks that have a particularly inspiring Hawaii Ironman tale is Henry Forrest.

Henry Forrest(image via www.slowtwitch.com)

Henry Forrest
(image via www.slowtwitch.com)

Who is Henry Forrest?

In the late 1970s, Henry Forrest was working with the Marine Corps and was stationed in the island of Oahu. A fitness enthusiast who would run to and from work, Forrest would practically be in every athletic competition held in the island, which back then were held mostly during the weekends. Forrest’s triathlon pursuits would later be known worldwide because of his participation in the first ever Hawaii Ironman in 1978.

Race preparation

Forrest would not have heard of the unlikely race had it not been for his wife Lou. Upon seeing a press release in the local paper detailing the grueling competition conceptualized by then US Navy Commander John Collins, Lou immediately informed his husband about it.

Henry’s reaction was one of surprise, saying that the concept was crazy. His wife encouraged him all the same. He later changed his mind though, thinking that he might just be able to do the race. After all, he was quite an excellent runner, and he did some swimming with the Marine Corps as well. Now, his only problem would be to teach himself again how to ride a bike for he has not ridden one since junior high school. Though his friends disagreed about his intention to participate in the race later on, he would proceed to preparing for the Ironman.

He sought the help of friends and colleagues to acquire a bike. Days prior to the race, an officer of the Marine Corps informed him that he had a 10-speed bike Forrest could borrow. The wicker basket at the front and the child seat at the back had to be removed though. He familiarized himself with the gears and did some training on the bike days before.

His plan was simple. He just needed to get through the swim portion and struggle through the bike leg. After these, he should have no trouble with the marathon, he thought.

Race day of the first Hawaii Ironman

Forrest and his support crew Lou and Nolan, a friend, got to the starting line at the beach at dawn. Participants and spectators soon started to pour in, and those who didn’t know him mistook his name as Henry Forrester, for when introduced, he would say “Henry Forrest, sir” briskly.

At the swim leg, he wore his running shorts and alternated freestyle, breaststrokes and backstrokes and got through fairly all right. After emerging from the water, he didn’t bother to change his wet shorts for he didn’t have a pair anyway. Besides, he thought this would lessen his transition time. He donned his running shoes, again thinking that doing so would reduce his transition time later, and immediately started the bike leg.

Though unskilled with the bike, he didn’t think it would be hard. After all, he would be sitting all the way through. But not knowing how to manipulate the gears was disastrous for it only made his ride at the steep portions of the course much harder. But he pedaled through and eventually completed this portion.

Once at the marathon leg, his spirits were up. Finally, he was at the last leg, and he was good at it. But perhaps due to the unfamiliar pedaling movements he made earlier, his body felt quite uncoordinated at the start of the run. But he ran mechanically, and one mile into the marathon, he felt his stride come back. He ran through the dark streets amid the light rain.

As he was nearing the finish line, he thought maybe there’d be crowds of people to cheer him on his triumph. But as he reached it, there were only three, Lou and Nolan, and a race official with a stop watch, waiting for him in the dark. He’d finished in 15 hours, 30 minutes, and 14 seconds, placing 7th overall.

Henry Forrest would go on to complete 6 Ironman races. In his later years, though he was no longer a competitor, he would be in the races to cheer on the participants. In 2007, he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and would succumb to the disease on November 6, 2008.

The Ironman didn’t turn professional until the latter part of the 1980s. There weren’t big cash prizes at the first few years of the competition. But this didn’t stop men like Henry Forrest from chasing their athletic pursuits and consequently inspire other regular folks to conquer their dreams.

Sources:

Original Ironman Henry Forrest

Ironman Pioneer Henry Forrest Passes Away

Ironman

Famous Triathletes: Judy Collins

Many credit then-Commander John Collins for the creation of Ironman, the most grueling multi-sport competition in the world right now. If not for his wild idea to combine the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race, and the Honolulu Marathon in one nonstop race, there wouldn’t be an Ironman in existence.

The unlikely concept for a race may be credited to John Collins, but handling the many aspects of the competition, specifically during the first two staged in 1978 and 1979, may be attributed to Judy Collins.

Who is Judy Collins?

Judy is none other than then-Commander John Collins’ wife. A housewife tending to two teenage kids in the mid 1970s, Judy would still find time to pursue her interest in sports. In fact, joining athletic competitions would become a family affair for the Collinses then, with husband and wife, as well as their two children Michael and Kristin, running in track meets together.

Judy and John Collins(image via www.thepanamanews.com)

Judy and John Collins
(image via www.thepanamanews.com)

Participation in the first modern triathlon

John Collins was in 1974 stationed in San Diego, California. Both avid health buffs, John and Judy would practically be in every masters athletic competition in and around the area, which back then weren’t that many. Having gotten wind of the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon organized by Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan, the couple eagerly signed up.

Race day was a late Wednesday afternoon on September 25, 1974. Judy, then 35 years old, placed 30th while the Commander was somewhere in the 22nd or 23rd place. Their children Kristin and Michael placed 33rd and 34th, respectively.

Contributions to Hawaii Ironman

The Collins family had to move to the scenic island of Oahu in Hawaii in the late 1970s due to the Commander’s job. In the island, it was not uncommon for families of armed forces personnel stationed there to each take turn to organize athletic competitions.

Having issued the unlikely concept for a race during a 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay, the Commander would often get asked by those who have heard about it. Finally, in 1978, it was the Collins family’s turn to host an event, and the husband-and-wife team ultimately decided on staging the Ironman.

Preparation for the first Ironman was of course tedious. After disseminating information about the event, Judy helped organize manpower for the upcoming competition. Fortunately, Hank Grundman and Valerie Silk, then-owners of a chain of fitness shops in Hawaii, agreed to extend support.

Then crucial details for the event such as race course, rules, and other guidelines had to be straightened out. Judy was involved in ironing out said aspects. She also assisted in the tedious tasks like assembling trophies from scratch, the design of which was created especially by the Commander.

John Collins took part in the first ever Hawaii Ironman. Judy did not join the race though. Instead, she was her husband’s support crew that day.

Triathlon in Panama

In 1980, the Collinses again had to move for the Commander got assigned back to the mainland United States. Years would pass and the couple would have no idea how popular and successful the event they had conceptualized had become. Though Kristin and Michael would represent the Collins family to a handful of Hawaii Ironman competitions for years to follow, the couple would remain unacquainted of the event’s renown.

In the mid 1990s, John and Judy were already residing in Panama, in the scenic port city of Portobelo in Colon Province. Seeing as how the city was an ideal location for a triathlon, they wasted no time in organizing competitions there. John and Judy assisted in setting up a local triathlon association as well and eventually handed down the race organizing to the said group. In 1997, John and Judy would return to Hawaii Ironman and from then on would serve as ambassadors for triathlon, traveling to other countries to further spread the sport.

Sources:

Triathlon – The Early History Of The Sport

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

Right Time, Right Place. Triathlon’s Roots Run Deep In San Diego.

Famous Triathletes: John Dunbar

The Hawaii Ironman that we have come to love actually has very humble beginnings. Back then, the race was practically humdrum, quite unlike the grandiose event that gets staged today. Competition rules regarding race getup or acceptable hydration beverages were nonexistent as well. But the race, especially the first two conducted in 1978 and 1979, were nonetheless interesting because of some colorful personalities who dared to take the unlikely challenge given by then-Commander John Collins.

Who is John Dunbar?

Dunbar was a 24 year old college student back in 1978. An avid health buff, he would frequently join athletic competitions in Hawaii. A soft-spoken and a good natured fellow, he had no qualms about running in an all-women’s charity race while donning a shirt that read “Token”.

John Dunbar(image via www.triatlet.com)

John Dunbar
(image via www.triatlet.com)

Dunbar was stationed in the island when he became a member of the US Navy SEALS. Having been in this military organization, Dunbar was then no stranger to grueling training. Upon hearing of the race that Commander Collins devised, Dunbar immediately signed up.

Race day of the 1978 Hawaii Ironman

Dunbar was certainly ready to take on the competition though he had been up practically the rest of the night organizing his race supplies. An excellent swimmer, he took to the ocean as soon as then-Commander Collins signaled the start of the race. He would consequently dominate this portion, with an astounding lead of 20 minutes over Gordon Haller, his closest opponent during this leg of the race.

Dunbar would not immediately get to start the bike leg of the competition for he had to first borrow a pair of cycling shorts. Throughout this and the marathon leg, Dunbar would be chased furiously by the older Haller. And the latter would catch up on Dunbar four times, first when he had his legs massaged by his support crew, and second, when he badly needed to make a stop to urinate.

But Dunbar’s prospects of winning first place would soon become dim during the marathon leg. His support crew was somewhere out there lost. Having no one to give him the badly needed hydration, he would slowly deteriorate.

Finally, his support crew found him. But ten miles to the finish line, already quite disoriented from both exhaustion and dehydration, Dunbar’s crew would inform him that his drinking water had run out. Having nothing else but beer in the van, his support crew had no choice but to give him two cans of the alcoholic beverage.

This would prove disastrous for it would worsen Dunbar’s physical condition. He would stumble into parked cars and would accuse his crew of attempting to poison him and sabotaging his race. But he would slog through, and would eventually complete the race 34 minutes after Haller crossed the finish line, thereby securing second place for himself.

Race day of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman

Dunbar was livid for losing the first place to Haller in 1978. So the following year in 1979, he would sign up for the race once more. But he vowed to himself that this would be his last Ironman and so prepared furiously for it.

Race day would be postponed the following day Sunday because of extremely stormy weather. But fans and competitors all the same gathered that Saturday. Dunbar, who is friends with Haller, also a retired Navy, challenged Haller to do the course, just the two of them, one on one.

That Sunday morning, the storm had not completely subsided yet. With the announcement that the race will proceed anyway, Dunbar would gather his swimming trunks from his van with blaring music to change from his Superman costume. The swim leg was particularly perilous, with competitors slicing through six feet high waves. Dunbar would finish third during this leg.

At the bike leg, Dunbar would chase Tom Warren furiously but he’d be overtaken by the only woman competitor that day, Lyn Lemaire. Warren would subsequently finish first in the bike, followed by Lemaire.

At the marathon, Dunbar would chase Warren at high speed. But the older Warren would prevail and Dunbar would complete the course almost 50 minutes after Warren crossed the finish line.

Dunbar, much like Haller and all the other folks who joined the first two Ironman competitions, would remain largely in the background. But Dunbar would continue to be active in the triathlon arena long after even though he vowed that the 1979 race would be his last.

Sources:

Ironman

Famous Triathletes: Lyn Lemaire

The sport of triathlon, specifically the Ironman, has always been dominated by men. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the unlikely concept originated from a close circle of friends and colleagues, led by then-Commander John Collins, a group composed mostly of men. But while this was the case, there are actually a handful of women whose contributions cannot be discounted.

There’s Judy Collins, John’s wife, who assisted the Commander in organizing the first Hawaii Ironman competitions in 1978 and 1979. There’s Valerie Silk as well, who handled the Hawaii Ironman race from 1980 to 1990 and is partly responsible for making the event the most popular triathlon competition in the world.

Female triathletes too have made significant contributions to the sport.

Who is Lyn Lemaire?

Lyn Lemaire, a native of Santa Monica, California, has always been into sports since she was a little kid. In high school, she took interest in swimming. She excelled in the sport and took part in four US national championships while still in high school.

In college, she attended UCLA and took up biochemistry. She took to the sport of basketball this time. Again, she did extremely well in this discipline that she actually played various positions at collegiate games.

In her senior year, she took her bike and did a 1,500-mile cycling trip from Vancouver, Canada all the way to Los Angeles, California. She loved the experience so much that she did the cycling trip again, only this time, she traveled around England and northern Europe. Though she covered a lot of miles on her bike, she did not really consider competing in the sport at first. For one, she thought the sport was “silly” for those who raced needed to train really hard. For another, she did not know of any women who actually did competitive cycling back then.

Then in 1975, Lemaire entered the US National Time Trial Championships and consequently placed second at the 25-mile individual cycling event. The year after, she again qualified for said competition. This time, she placed first and simultaneously set a new record for finishing in an astounding time of 1:00:06.7. The same year in 1976, she qualified for the US National Track Championships and placed third overall for the 3,000-meter track event.

She defended her title in the US National Time Trial Championships the following year in 1977. In 1978, she again took part in said event as well as the US National Track Championships, placing second and third, respectively.

First female to complete an Ironman

Being active in the sporting arena, it did not take long for Lemaire to get wind of the Ironman triathlon held in the island of Oahu. Excelling in all three disciplines included in the Ironman, she was confident that she can conquer this competition as well. So she flew to Hawaii and enlisted for the 1979 Hawaii Ironman race.

1979 Hawaii Ironman

1979 Hawaii Ironman
(image via running.competitor.com)

The race was moved from January 13 to January 14 due to stormy weather. Originally, 28 folks signed up. But thirteen dropped out, one of them a woman, because the bad weather that Sunday morning still hadn’t subsided. This left Lemaire as the only female competitor that day and the first ever since Ironman’s inception a year prior.

Race day at the swim leg, Ian Emberson emerged first. Tom Warren soon splashed out of the water, followed by John Dunbar, Mike Collins, and finally, Lyn Lemaire. Gordon Haller, 1978’s winner, was still left zigzagging in the swells of the ocean for his navigator had to be rescued out of the water.

At the bike leg, Warren was leading the race and he was closely followed by Dunbar. But Lemaire soon gained in on Dunbar. Lemaire managed to maintain top speed at the bike, and was just ten minutes behind Warren. However, she had to stop eight times at the last ten miles due to leg cramps, causing her to finish second in this race.

Though Lemaire had a twenty one minute lead over Dunbar, he soon ran past her at the marathon portion. At 23 miles into the run, she hit the wall from exhaustion. Though it crossed her mind to drop out, she did not. She continued to slog through, eventually finishing the run in 5 hours and 10 minutes, subsequently securing the fifth place finish for herself.

Sources:

Lyn Lemaire

Ironman

The Fifth Best Iron Man Is a Woman, Versatile Lyn Lemaire

US National Time Trial Championships 1975-1981

US National Track Championships

Famous Triathletes: Tom Warren

The Ironman triathlon did not immediately become popular. In fact, its first staging in 1978 was fairly unexciting and the competition went rather unnoticed. Except for a short piece in a Honolulu paper about the race which was won by Gordon Haller, not much media coverage was dedicated to it. But the multi-sport arena will forever be changed when sports journalist Barry McDermott decides to cover the 1979 Hawaii Ironman and its winner Tom Warren.

Who is Tom Warren?

Tom Warren, a native of San Diego, California, was a 35 year old fitness fanatic during the late 70s. Back in his native San Diego, Warren managed Tug’s Tavern, a business he’d owned for 10 years. A popular hangout among locals, it featured a bar on one floor where Warren would be every night serving the regulars himself. On another floor was a health club complete with its own sauna and a whirlpool bath, as well as weight machines.

Tom Warren

Tom Warren
(image via www.digplanet.com)

Living in San Diego which had a bustling sporting community, it was inevitable for Warren to hear of the Ironman event held in Hawaii. In 1979, he packed his gear and spent $1,000 to travel to the island of Oahu.

Eve of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman

Race day was supposed to be on a Saturday, January 13, 1979. However, Then-Commander John Collins decided to postpone it to Sunday, January 14, to allow for the stormy weather to subside.

That Saturday night, fans as well as participants of the Ironman all gathered at the welcome dinner. The fans’ attention was all focused on Haller and John Dunbar, who during the 1978 competition, raced against each other furiously to the finish line.

Among those who gathered was Barry McDermott, a journalist for the Sports Illustrated Magazine. McDermott was originally in Hawaii to cover a golf tournament in Honolulu. Having gotten wind of the upcoming Ironman, McDermott decided to stay and see the race for himself. Warren, on the other hand, having only joined in 1979, and the fact that he was an unknown in Hawaii’s sporting community, was not given any notice.

Race Day of the 1979 Hawaii Ironman

With the storm not having fully subsided, the participants gathered at the starting line at the beach. Incidentally, thirteen dropped out leaving only fifteen of the original twenty eight who signed up.

It was 27 year old Ian Emberson who got out of the water first. Warren soon followed after four minutes. John Dunbar would follow immediately after, staggering from exhaustion and cold. Haller, the original Ironman, would be left zigzagging in the ocean for nearly two hours after his navigator had to be rescued out of the violent seas.

During the cycling leg, Warren would overtake Emberson, an exceptional swimmer but quite inexperienced at cycling. Warren’s closest rival during the second portion of the race was Lyn Lemaire, the first ever woman to compete in the Ironman and the only female during this particular event. Warren would go so fast that his support crew of two would have difficulty chasing after him.

Warren ditched his bike at the finish line of the second leg and immediately took to running. Certainly no stranger to marathons, he had run from his native San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico and then back just for the fun of it.

As Warren slogged through, a local marathoner Johnny Faerber would join in and offer the former encouragement. But Warren didn’t really need this, for he’d already decided that he’d win the race. Having only eaten a piece of roll and a fresh orange, he plodded through, though the pain in his legs was becoming more severe. Finally, he reached the finish line in 11 hours, 15 minutes, and 56 seconds, to the astonishment of a group of spectators who had been waiting to see who would lead the race – Haller or Dunbar.

Dunbar would come in second, followed by Emberson at third, and Haller at fourth place. After the race, Haller and Warren would set off to relax in a Jacuzzi and exchange stories about their training regimen until midnight. Warren soon got hungry so he tried to find someone to accompany him. But no one was strong enough yet after the grueling race. So Warren set off on his own at 1:30 a.m. to look for a place he could grab some really early morning breakfast.

Tom Warren, the unknown San Diego native who conquered the second Ironman triathlon, would be featured heavily by journalist Barry McDermott in his article with the Sports Illustrated Magazine, which incidentally, was the first ever coverage of the race by the mainstream media.

Sources:

Ironman

Famous Triathletes: Gordon Haller

The Ironman triathlon finally got staged in 1978. Though it was only contested by 15 folks, three of whom unfortunately failed to complete the course, this competition will forever be remarkable for it is where some of the legends of triathlon came from.

Who is Gordon Haller?

Gordon Haller was then a 27 year old fitness enthusiast. A graduate of Physics from the Pacific University, Haller joined the US Navy as a Communications Specialist. He would later retire and do an assortment of jobs while in Hawaii.

In 1978, Haller was a taxi cab driver working the night shift. During the day, he would sleep and wake up past noon to do his workouts which would usually be running, cycling, or swimming. He’d then have a nap before going back to work.

Haller would often join local athletic competitions in the island, which back then, weren’t that many. At the Honolulu Marathon in 1978, Haller signed up along with a friend. But midway through the race, his foot injury acted up. Figuring he wouldn’t be able to do his usual fast pace, he decided to drop out as an official entrant. Still, he wanted to accompany his friend all the way through the course. Haller was at the local bike shop waiting for his friend to emerge. That’s when he overheard the shop owner talk about the dare then-Commander John Collins made.

Haller immediately thought that, indeed, he definitely can do this type of race. After all, he was already training in swimming, running, and cycling. The only difference is that this time, all three disciplines will have to be done continuously.

First ever Ironman triathlon

Haller was quite confident for aside from his usual workout routine, he’d been offered free training by the Nautilus Fitness Club in preparation for the race, courtesy of then-owners Hank Grundman and Valerie Silk.

Race day was on February 18, 1978 at the island of Oahu. Of the eighteen that had originally confirmed, only fifteen would proceed to start the race. After splashing out of the water, Haller proceeded to a nearby hotel to take a shower and change into his bike getup.

He then hopped on a borrowed high-geared bike. He had to switch to his trusty Raleigh tour bike which he normally uses to go to work when he reached the steep hills for the other bike became too difficult to pedal.

All the way through the two legs, Haller would be chasing John Dunbar, a college student who was his toughest opponent. Haller caught on Dunbar when the latter was having his legs massaged. He got past him too when Dunbar stopped to urinate. Surely he must be faster than this younger fellow for he kept catching up on him, Haller thought.

Gordon Haller and John Dunbar
(image via blog.naver.com)

Lastly, at the final leg of the race, Dunbar started to crumble from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Though his support crew finally found him after getting lost, their water supply for Dunbar had run out. Having no water to give him, they handed him beer, which Dunbar thirstily downed. He’d later become delirious, stumbling at parked cars.

Haller was meanwhile gunning it to the finish line. He mustered all his strength and completed the remaining 5 miles in astounding 31 minutes, finishing officially at 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds. Dunbar would finish second at 12 hours and 20 minutes.

Second Ironman triathlon

The 1979 Ironman triathlon was fraught with logistical issues. Then-Commander Collins even had to move the race a day later because of extremely bad weather. The seas were perilously high making it impossible for a seasoned Navy officer to steer his sea vessels which he volunteered for the race out of the harbor. With only one rescue boat, thirteen of the original twenty eight competitors dropped out.

Haller was one of the brazen souls who would continue. He plunged into the high seas along with his navigator Jamie Neely. Unfortunately, Neely had to be rescued, leaving Haller without a guide in the ocean. This caused him his race, taking him almost two hours to swim back to the beach.

Tom Warren, a San Diego native, would snag the first place. John Dunbar, who donned a Superman costume during the race, and Ian Emberson, finished second and third respectively. Due to a disastrous swim, Haller would finish fourth.

Haller would continue to join triathlons and marathons, even flying to other countries like New Zealand just to do so. But unlike younger contemporaries who have enjoyed generous coverage for their athletic pursuits, Haller would remain in the background. But though this was the case, he’d successfully earned the distinction of being the first ever Ironman in history.

For a great podcast interview with Gordon Haller, visit the “Legends of Triathlon” podcast.

Sources:

Gordon Haller

Original Ironman still racing hard

Ironman

Ironman’s first champ, Gordon Haller, looks back 25 years

Competitor Radio interview with Gordon Haller

Famous Triathletes: Valerie Silk

The unlikely challenge from then-Commander John Collins resulted in none other than the Ironman race. But his idea for the grueling competition did not immediately take off. And if not for the contribution of one woman, this very popular endurance competition would not be where it is today.

Who is Valerie Silk?

Many recognize and acknowledge Valerie Silk as the mother of the Ironman race. But everything about the race would have been entirely different had Silk refused the responsibility of handling the race after John Collin’s departure from Hawaii.

John Collins and Valerie Silk
(image via www.shygiants.com)

Back in the 1970s, Silk and then-husband Hank Grundman were the proud owners of a chain of fitness gyms in Hawaii. The couple inevitably got involved in the dynamic sporting community in the island due to their involvement in said business.

In 1978, the couple worked closely with the Collins family when the latter’s turn to host an athletic competition in the island came up. Silk and then-husband Grundman would grant Gordon Haller a free gym membership and training in preparation for his Ironman race. Pre- and post-race, the couple’s involvement was crucial too as they helped ensure manpower for the inaugural race.

On the third staging of the Ironman in 1980, John Collins and family had to leave Hawaii permanently. This prompted the Commander to find someone who would take over the organization of the Ironman. Having worked with Valerie and Hank for the race, the Commander requested the couple to take over the event upon his leaving.

Silk was reluctant of the responsibility for she already had a lot on her plate, what with handling a chain of fitness clubs. Add to the fact that the prior races used up their resources considerably. But his then-husband was successful in persuading her, and though unwilling at first, she took to heart the handling of the race. She will subsequently become almost solely responsible for the event’s growth during its crucial early years.

Modifications to the race

Silk put into effect changes that would prove to be beneficial for the Ironman race and for the sport of triathlon as a whole.

Transferred to Kona

A key change was the race’s move to the island of Kailua-Kona. Silk’s primary reason for this was safety. With participants increasing in number, the island of Oahu just wasn’t big enough to accommodate a large crowd.

Race month changed

Another modification was moving the race from February to October. Silk was concerned that February was a stormy month. She made the move as a consideration for the athletes as well so that they’d no longer have to train in the winter and subsequently be subjected to Kailua-Kona’s punishing humidity and heat during February.

Set up qualifying races

Silk established the qualifying races for the Ironman race as well. Though this development meant that the organizers won’t accept just about every applicant, the qualifying races helped ensure safety for all the competitors.

Ironman goes professional

1985 was a landmark for Silk as well, for it was during this year that she finally decided for the Ironman to become pro. Leaving behind the amateur race arena meant more sponsors, which was beneficial business-wise for the Hawaiian Triathlon Corporation.

Established the IronKids

Providing the Ironman experience to everyone was one of Silk’s foremost aims. So she put into motion the IronKids Triathlon Series so that children aged 7 to 15 can take part in this life-changing sport as well. Since its inception in 1985, the event has been participated in by thousands of kids. It served as the starting ground for some of the big names in the sport such as Hunter Kemper who won five times, and Lance Armstrong who won twice.

Valerie Silk may have had to relinquish the organization of the Ironman in 1990, but her decade-long run as owner and race director of the event certainly were years well spent.

Sources:
If Valerie Silk Had Gotten Her Way, There May Never Have Been An Ironman

Valerie Silk – USA Triathlon Athlete Profile

Famous Triathletes: John Collins

Modern triathlon’s first staging in San Diego was a huge success. And a husband-and-wife team, who later on will be instrumental in setting the direction of the sport of triathlon, was among the forty six eager participants who showed up on race day of the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon.

John and Judy Collins
(image via www.ironman.com)

Who is John Collins?

John Collins, then a Commander of the United States Navy, got posted in San Diego, California in the 1970s. A fitness enthusiast, John, along with his wife Judy, would regularly join the athletic competitions in and around the Pacific Beach community. John Collins would later retire as a Captain of the US Navy.

Participation in the 1974 Mission Bay Triathlon

On September 25, 1974, John, Judy, along with their kids Michael and Kristin, then only 13 and 12 years old, eagerly signed up for the race organized by Jack Johntone and Don Shanahan.

Then-Commander Collins successfully finished the race. However, his name didn’t get included in the official results, which incidentally, also bore no one in the 35th place. After learning that Judy was the Commander’s wife, organizer Jack Johnstone listed John as the overall 35th finisher with a time of 79:19 minutes. Years later though, Johnstone would receive a call from Judy, saying that John was certain, as were others present at the race, that he finished in 71 minutes, thus placing him in the 22nd or 23rd place.

Concept for the Ironman

John Collins got posted from the mainland United States to Hawaii and so the family had to leave the bustling sporting community of San Diego. While new in Oahu, John Collins nevertheless continued to actively participate in the various athletic competitions held in the island.

At the awarding ceremonies of the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay, John and Judy were sitting at a table with close friends and colleagues. At the banquet, the argument on which athlete, the runner or the swimmer, was fitter, came up. Collins, having read about champion cyclist Eddy Merckx’s incredible oxygen uptake, mentioned that cyclists may just be the strongest. Of course, Collins’ input didn’t help the friendly discourse one bit.

That’s when the off the wall idea for the Ironman came to Collins. He thought; why not incorporate the three major athletic events held in the island into one? Surely, racing the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Oahu Perimeter Relay, and the Honolulu Marathon continuously, would finally help settle their argument as to which athlete was fittest.

Clearly inspired with the idea, he went to the stage during the commissioned band’s intermission. He then issued the challenge and said that whoever gets to the finish line first will be aptly called the Ironman.

First ever Ironman race

John’s idea didn’t immediately take off though there were a handful of persistent folks who would regularly ask the Commander about when they would finally do the three-part race. Finally, in 1978, it was the Collins family’s turn to organize an athletic event in the island, and so they went right into preparing for the first ever Ironman race.

Race day was practically humdrum, with only 18 competitors showing up. Of these, three would drop out prior to commencement of the event, and three would be unsuccessful in finishing the course.

John Collins, the creator of this crazy grueling race, would finish in a little under 17 hours. Meanwhile, Gordon Haller, a taxi cab driver who was a retired Communications Specialist of the US Navy, dominated the race after having finished the course in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds, becoming the first ever Ironman in history.

Handing over the Ironman

The Collins family again staged the Ironman in 1979. Originally, 50 athletes signed up for the race. Many dropped out due to bad weather on race day though. This competition was meanwhile won by Tom Warren.

The following year in 1980, John Collins and family again had to move out of Hawaii due to the Commander’s job. But prior to leaving, Collins entrusted the show box full of race entries to Hank Gruenman, the fellow who owned the Nautilus Fitness Clubs that helped out during the two prior Ironman races.

No money exchanged between the two though Collins made sure to lay down two conditions; that his family could enter the race whenever they wanted; and that slots always be reserved for folks who aren’t professional athletes. Gruenman would consequently hand over this shoe box to then-wife Valerie Silk, who will later play a huge role in making Ironman the popular race that it is today.

Sources:

Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

An Officer and a Gentleman – John Collins

From Unlikely Challenge to International Sensation

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.

Sources:

Triathlon – The Early History of the Sport

Don Shanahan Interview