Monday, August 24, 2015
HOW THE IRONMAN TRIATHLON BEGAN
The year was 1977, I was the principle investigator for a National Science Foundation Science for Citizens program at the University of Hawaii, when the director of the effort, Judy Collins, mentioned to me that her husband and their Navy friends were talking about combining the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (2.4 miles), Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles) and Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles) into one giant event. I laughed, in fear, and said to her, you're going to kill someone (turned out, actually, that there have been at least 43 fatalities--but the death rate is not out of the ordinary compared with whatever else people do with their lives). This is one of those times when you're glad you failed to prevail, for a little while later, in 1978, they went ahead and did just that, creating the ultimate race for humanity. The adjustment was reducing the bike portion by three miles so that they could complete the whole thing is one day. To quote her husband, John:
— Commander Collins, USN (1978), 
Fifteen men competed, twelve actually finished, including John, and the Ironman was Gorden Haller of the Navy, with a time of 11 hours 46 minutes 58 minutes. In second place came Navy Seal John Dunbar, who said he would have won if he hadn't run out water and was fed beer by his friends. The current course record is 8 hours 3 minutes 56 seconds, by Craig Alexander, while the women's record is 8 hours 52 minutes 14 seconds. by Chrissie Wellington:
Appropriately enough, Judy is quite an athlete herself, famous for swimming between various Hawaiian islands. In 1977, before the first Ironman, she became the first female to swim from Lanai to Maui.
I'm not sure how many times she finished the Iron Man, but while they were here in Hawaii, their two children, I believe while they were in high school, Michael and Kristen, also completed the event. Judy and John have long lived on a boat in Panama, yes, Panama, but now and then come by to observe the Kona Iron Man, which has become the largest annual event for Kailua-Kona. Here we are two years ago celebrating one of their returns:
Let me close with two anecdotes. While we were having lunch, above, at Michel's, they passed on to me an old photo from that later 70's era showing, below, Jim Shon, who later went on to become a State Representative, and me (I'm not doing the hula), working on one of the NSF activities. No doubt the most gratifying accomplishment of the Science for Citizens program is that we published a book produced by one of my Technology and Society classes. The students made a presentation at a major conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and various mayors of the islands asked if the show could make an interisland tour. That we did, and the book itself became a text for the Hawaii Department of Education/
The second story has to do with my first trip to Miyakojima. This was more than two decades ago, and I was one of the leaders of an iternational effort entitled Green Enertopica to select an island for each country to serve as the symbol of energy self-sufficiency. Miyakojima seemed to be the ideal site for Japan, so I flew there and met with the Mayor over dinner. He seemed disinterested in what I was saying until I noted that the island had something called Strongman, the triathlon of Japan. While it ends with a marathon, the other two segments are shorter than the Iron Man. Anyway, it turns out that, like Kailua-Kona, this is their biggest event of the year. While the Mayor's face lit up when I mentioned Strongman, he then practically gave me the key to the city when I mentioned that, by the way, Judy and John Collins, the inventors of the concept, were good friends of mine. This interaction went a long way into making Miyakojima, now, the solar island of Japan. I gather they survived Typhoon Goni.
Of all the interesting things, Typhoon Goni, still a dangerous 125 MPH storm has shifted, and now will largely bypass Kagoshima, but get close to Nagasaki, miss Korea, but head in the general direction of Vladivostok:
Tropical Depression Kilo, now at 45 MPH, will strengthen into a hurricane, but appears now to be moving west away from Kauai: