September 07, 2006

History And The Loss Of Tri-Innocence

I'm going to talk to you right now about inspiration. So get ready. In fact, you might want to get your sorry butt up off the couch before you read this. There is something about that piece of furniture that magically and mysteriously sucks the inspiration right out of you. Sit in a chair and you'll be nice and fine, a normal productive member of society - but drop your ass on the couch and you can pretty much kiss your ambitions goodbye.

So, as I was saying, get up off the damn couch cause we're gonna talk for a little bit about inspiration and once the information goes into your brain, I don't want it to immediately leak out through your tush. OK, here goes..

The first triathlon took place in 1974, if my memory serves me, and happened somewhere in San Diego. I don't remember where and, to be honest, I'm too lazy to look it up right now cause it has very little to do with my story.

In a seemingly unrelated incident, the first Ironman race launched in Hawaii in 1978. (I'm not going to go through the details of how Ironman was started cause if you've enrolled in this class, you should've already learned the story by now.) Triathlon, however, was not necessarily a sport at that time; more like a hobby for a very small cross-section of the physically fit/mentally deranged type. Triathlon did not become a sport until 1982.

As we sat on the couch glued to our televisions, the furniture slowly seeping out our ambition, we watched in awe as a little freckled red-head, out doing an endurance experiment for college, collapsed from dehydration during the Hawaii Ironman. Our jaws dropped in horror as her legs gave out from under her. We cringed in disbelief as she lost control of her bodily functions. We screamed at the TV for the volunteers to carry her away. Somebody help her! we cried. For Godsakes, give her a goddam IV drip or something! we yelled from the depths of our heart. And we barely felt the tears drop down our cheeks as we watched how, like the mangled remains of a fatal highway pile-up, she miraculously found that single ounce of strength to drag her body across the finish line.

We didn't know how she did it, we didn't realize human will ran so deep, but as Julie Moss' hand desperately reached out to cross the finish line of the Hawaii Ironman in 1982, a world of newly discovered triathletes cried in unison.

That event quickly became the single most inspirational moment in triathlon history and, arguably, one of the most inspirational moments in the history of any sport. On that day, at that moment, from that Ironwill, the sport of triathlon was born.

A few years later, in 1989, we were again taken by inspiration as the IronWar was waged between Mark Allen and Dave Scott. For 140 miles they went stroke for stroke, stride for stride. Though there were hundreds of people competing in Kona that year, it was all about the two out front; two people in a long-standing heated battle to be the best. We didn't know what would happen, though we assumed Dave Scott would reign yet again. But when Mark pulled ahead on the last hill, we couldn't believe it. And when he cruised alone down Ali'i Drive to the finish, we sat stunned. Silently, tragically inspired.

There are many other grandiose inspirational moments in triathlon history. Jim MacLaren. Dick & Rick Hoyt. Names that inspire awe. Yet almost all of the most inspirational moments come from those early days of the sport as the Ironman pioneers bravely broke down barriers nobody else dared to defy. Since then, the sport has grown miraculously. There are a multitude of triathlons throughout the world and hundreds of thousands of participants. There is more prize money than has ever been available and Olympic dreams can finally become reality for the sport's elite.

People have said we are in a drought of truly awe-inspiring moments in the sport. That the days of Julie Moss and the IronWar are far behind us and never again shall the world be moved by the heart of that type of competition. And you know what? I agree.

We are in a different stage with triathlon right now. We have grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Those early inspirations helped drive us; they got us to where we are right now. And with the changes we've experienced, the source of inspiration has morphed into a new beast. No matter how hard NBC tries, no longer is it about one person who will change the sport. We've witnessed Julie Moss' struggle, we've seen Dick & Rick Hoyt sprint down Ali'i Drive, we've watched Mark and Dave silently tear at each others throats like virtual pitbulls in the heat of battle... we have already lived our world altering events.

Inspiration has changed. We should no longer search within triathlon's elite to find our own hearts. Our heart is now within us. You and me - we are now the inspiring ones. We are the ones who inspire others and we must never forget to inspire ourselves. We must be proud of what we've done and where we've gone. We need to smile with pride after a good day, and laugh with inspiration after a bad one.

We are the people that others dream about. Let's not forget that.

So, as I said, get up off the couch. Lace up your shoes, run out the door.


Anonymous said...

hey, love your blog!!

triathlonmom said...

beautiful. Can't wait to make it to work (where they have DSL) so i can check out the You Tubes.

Brandon said...

The Julie Moss phenomenon is incredible, but you can find it in another form of racing: adventure racing. Try 24-racing, or multiple day races (3-10), and a squad of friends (co-ed, 4 person), and you have yourself the mix of a potential Moss moment. It's hardly witnessed by outside spectators because of the remoteness of the courses, but as a racer, I've seen people do some incredible things that has a certain kona coast ring to it.

Keep up the writing and check out an adventure race. I still do triathlons, but adventure races contain that raw, un-incorporated feel. Sometimes that's just what ya need.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me? There is inspiration at every triathlon event. Look around. Talk to the other competitors. Besides the pros everyone else at a trialthon is fitting in training with life, kids, work, etc. There are thousands of incredible people. Look at Frank Farrah! OMG I look up to him so much more than any pro.