THE WOMAN AND THE MAN BEHIND THE IRONMAN (IM)
Ironman had two Founders, a woman and a man. Ironman Triathlon began with a woman’s determination to make it happen. The man’s comments on the birth of long distance triathlon are what became legend. The woman’s memory is the one that included the history details. Neither could have pulled it off alone. Ironman was a joint effort. The two Founders were Judy Collins and John Collins.
Ironman Founders Judy and John Collins look back on Ironman origins history:
as they lived the history in Honolulu in the 1970’s;
as the history continued in the 1980’s after they left Hawai’i;
as they heard an incorrect IM origins history in the Kona years;
as they tried to solve the mystery of the incorrect Ironman history.
A Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon Origins Story – 2/14/77 to 10/15/79
As we lived Iron Man history in Honolulu
OUR DECISION AND PLANNING YEAR
John and I made our decision and settled the details of our Around the Island Triathlon on a Monday night, 14 February 1977
We made the first public announcement about our Triathlon
on 23 October 1977
Sitting outside on a tropical evening
We were sitting outside in open air in a garden setting by the Pearl Harbor Bicycle Path. We sat with a few friends and talked quietly while sitting apart from one another. John was sitting at one end of the picnic table with a swim friend and a run friend. I was sitting in the middle of the table. John has described his memory of that night many times. When my memory is joined with John’s memory the Ironman origins picture is complete. Our two conversations took place in between the awards presentations to the 84 run teams in the O’ahu Perimeter Relays. The Primo Brewery was the sponsor of running events in Honolulu. One of the benefits for the runners was the use of the outdoor garden behind the brewery building.
A personal goal
I had a goal that night to make a decision about putting on a triathlon. John did not know of my plan. John and I were in charge of the February 1977 sprint Run-Swim. I did not want us to be in the charge of the 1978 Run-Swim. We were not fast. By the time we found our pace in a sprint we were crossing the finish line. I wanted our family to volunteer to put on a new endurance event that would be fun for us to do. I wanted us to put on the first triathlon in Hawai’i.
Our family of four had bicycled across California to Yosemite National Park in 1973. Hiking in Yosemite had been a favorite family outing. After we arrived at the Park we had gone on a back-packing trip in the Sierra Nevadas. We moved to Coronado, California later that summer. John and I began to exercise regularly for the first time in our married lives. Our children were swimmers, athletes. We were the non-athletes. John did not know how to swim. Both of us learned how to swim laps at the municipal pool. We entered ocean swims. We became charter members of an adult swim team, the Coronado Masters Association (CMA). We began to run.
From hiking… to biking and swimming and running
Our family entered the first modern run-bike-swim to be called a triathlon. It was a run, bike, run-swim, run-swim, run-swim, run-swim. Our ages then were 38, 35, 13, and 12. The Mission Bay Triathlon was held on a Wednesday evening, 25 September 1974, in San Diego. Our swim coach put on a triathlon in Coronado on 27 July 1975. It was a bike, run, swim, run. Kristin and Michael Collins were in it. A few weeks later we moved to Hawai’i in time to do the Waikīkī Roughwater Swim on Labor Day. The tropical waters and trade-winds of the islands made us want to be outside. We were soon swimming and running seven days a week.
Fans of endurance events
We and our friends in Honolulu were fans of endurance events on the mainland. We had been in Hawai’i almost 18 months. The two of us were both Captains of 7 person relay teams in the O’ahu Perimeter Relays on February 5-6, 1977. My team was the Waikiki Swim Club (WSC) Wahines. John’s team was the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard Yardbirds (PHNSY). By February of 1977 we were ready to try something new in Honolulu.
The right time
This was the the night. On the evening of 14 February 1977 I was determined to commit to putting on a triathlon. I wanted to introduce triathlon to Hawai’i. John and I were in charge of the 1977 Run-Swim sprint between the Mid-Pacific Road Runners Club and the Waikiki Swim Club. I wanted a reason that night for us to say we would not be in charge of the next year’s Run-Swim. I wanted us to put on a long-distance triathlon in 1978. I had talked about a new long distance event with the long distance swimmers in the Waikiki Swim Club. I knew that John and I would be sitting with friends that night who knew about triathlon in California.
The Run-Swim Trophy
I was ready. I had looked over at our fireplace that night as we left for the Relays Awards. The Run-Swim Trophy from the 1976 dual meet was on our mantel. The Swim Club had won it. The trophy was a running shoe suspended in a life-ring. John and I were not sprinters. We had more endurance than speed. Many of us enjoyed long distance swimming and long distance running and could also ride a bike. We were looking for something new to do. We were fans of long distance events. I made a promise to myself as we left the house. Tonight we would decide what the course would be for our long distance triathlon.
Triathlon for Hawai’i
My plan was that our endurance triathlon would be based on two popular annual events. It would begin with the Waikīkī Roughwater Swim and end with the Honolulu Marathon. I could not figure out the bicycle part. The course of the Waikīkī Roughwater began across from Kapiolani Park. The course of the Honolulu Marathon ended in Kapiolani Park. Where oh where should the bicycle leg be?
When John heard me say the word bicycle he looked over and spoke up. He told us he had read an article about the oxygen uptake of Belgian bicyclist Eddie Merckx. I told John that we were talking about something that was interesting, too. We were deciding the bike leg for a long distance triathlon. John was interested in that. He stood up and moved around the table to sit beside me.
Linking three annual events
After a few minutes John joined the triathlon conversation. The planning had been simplified already because the swim and run courses were “off-the shelf.” John suggested we use the bike course of the annual around O’ahu bike ride too. The geography worked. We all talked a bit more about the pros and cons. Then we went for it. To add the around O’ahu bike ride would link three popular annual events. Cool!
“If you do it, I’ll do it”
Doing all three distance events one after another would make a long day. But why not? John and I were veterans of two of those annual events. We had done some long distance bicycle trips. We said to one another, “If you do it, I’ll do it.” Two friends said the same to us. Three other friends volunteered to help. We agreed we would unveil our triathlon at the annual meeting of the Waikiki Swim Club (WSC) later that year. We talked about making that surprise announcement.
I recall my feeling of delight. I wanted to click my heels. We would cut the marathon down to size in our minds. Running 26.2 miles would be just one more thing to do after a long warm-up. And we would be running in the cool of the evening. We said that whoever finished our triathlon would earn the right to talk about that forever. Our plan to put on a new event had put us in high spirits. Done! That was the end of our discussion of our triathlon that night. Our new event was a year away. It was settled. We would talk about it again in October.
A break in the awards and a lot of noise
Moments later there was a break in the Awards presentations. Noise erupted. People moved about. Table conversation could not be heard unless it was head-to-head. John Collins and Dan Hendrickson left the table. The rest of us stayed put. We thought John and Dan would soon return with more pretzels and some paper cups of something to drink – beer or orange drink or water. No. Where I sat were Sid Hendrickson and Bill Earley – swim friends from Coronado and CMA, our neighbor – PHNS Yardbird runner Lew Felton and WSC Wahine runner Ainslie Brennan.
Dan H. and Tom K.
Dan was back in a few minutes with a friend from work who had recently run around a track for 24 hours. Dan’s friend and I leaned our heads across the table to talk to each other. Dan’s friend did not swim but he said he was interested in our long distance triathlon. I said he could train for the swim by doing the Waikiki Roughwater Swim on Labor Day. I told him, Tom Knoll, that our triathlon was a year away. Then I asked him if he knew how the run club made their events known to the Police Department. He said they addressed a letter to the Chief of Police for the City and County of Honolulu. The letter described the activity and pledged that participants would be law-abiding and keep a low profile. Our letter for the triathlon would follow that model.
John’s sole witness, Judy
When John returned to the table it was still bedlam. No one could have heard a shout of “Fire!” John sat beside me and cupped his hand over my ear. He said, “I just made an announcement.” He told me what he had said. I remember every word. The last line mentioned the Shipyard runner whose nickname was “Iron Man.” What John said to me was a good summary of our triathlon. John stopped talking. I sat in shock. Why had John blown our plan to make a surprise announcement later in the year? I was so disappointed in him. I was embarrassed for him too. I did not want the others to know what he had done. We all had just talked about the fun of unveiling the triathlon at the Swim Banquet. I took a breath, let it out. No one could have heard John or anyone else say anything. After all, just then, John had had to speak directly into my ear to be heard.
I remember so clearly how I felt after we made our decision. I was gleeful. I still smile when I think about it now. Maybe John had felt the same way that night. Maybe John could not resist saying something to some in the noisy crowd, even if no one could hear him.
The noisy intermission
I had glimpsed John during the break. He was gesturing with his hands while talking to a Marine. They were standing on the path that went by the stage. I had been looking at that empty stage during the intermission. There was still too much noise for me to speak to John when he returned to our picnic table. Then the emcee reappeared, the microphone was back on, the crowd became quiet, the awards resumed. We looked forward to getting our teams’ awards.
The simple decision story
I remember our decision night as a Now or Never moment. The details made a simple story. We put together three annual events to make a three leg triathlon that started and finished in one lovely place, Kapiolani Park, Honolulu. Our family had done triathlons in California. We wanted to introduce triathlon to Hawai’i. We did it. Our wish came true. Our long distance triathlon became an annual event. John and I had no reason to talk about our decision night for many years.
Our first public announcement
My memories of our Monday night decision included this. We had decided on that February night that we would make the first public announcement in October 1977 at the annual Banquet of the Waikiki Swim Club (WSC). That is what we did. It was on Veteran’s Day Eve, 23 October, in Honolulu.
Two at the podium
It was time for us to make our triathlon announcement at the swim banquet. John and I were standing behind a lectern together. The lectern was at the end of a long table. I introduced the 1978 swim club calendar. I said John and I would put on a demonstration triathlon for the Waikīkī Swim Club in mid-February. We had no special name for our event. At that time it was a generic long-distance triathlon. I built up to my introduction of John.
Laughter at our idea
John then described the course details. The long swim would be first because it would be easier to keep track of the swimmers that way. John probably said, “The gun will go off at 7am…swim…” “…bicycle the island counter-clockwise…” “… to Aloha Tower, the start of the Honolulu Marathon.” Three annual long distance events on the island would be done one after the other on the same day. We said the date of our event would be in February. We had no plan to have a name for our endurance triathlon. We had no reason to mention to a room of swimmers the nickname of a runner at the Shipyard, “Iron Man.” I remember that John’s description of our around-the-island triathlon got a big laugh from the swimmers.
A demonstration event for the Waikiki Swim Club
Our long distance triathlon would be a demonstration event for the Club. A demonstration event was just that. If people liked doing it and no one was hurt we would put it on and be in it each year. Club events were low or no fee, Show and Go events. No advance registration. No teeshirts. Open to the public. If a start time and finish line were involved there might be a timer and a Finisher list. The award might be a finish time that would be published in the newsletter. The reward for first place was to be the first name on the Finisher list.
We inquired about the insurance and liability practice for demonstration events. We were told the Waikiki Swim Club did not carry insurance. Insurance protection came with events that were sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The AAU was established in 1888 when interest in recreational sport had become popular. The sanctioned AAU events in Honolulu included pool meets, the Waikiki Roughwater Swim of those years, the Honolulu Marathon in those years. Our new event, triathlon, would be a long way from ever being an AAU event. And demonstration events, particularly, were voluntary commitments by individual athletes. A new event might attract a few or many to take part. That is why they were called Show and Go events.
We were in swim and run events almost every weekend. Only a few events required an entry form with a signature on a liability paragraph. Those included the AAU events and probably the Lanai-Maui Channel Relays. Maybe more. I was wary of liability disclaimers because of a misunderstanding. I had been told in graduate school that Liability Statement signatures simply discourage law suits. A teacher or a family or an organization might still be sued if a participant was injured. I had told John that.
The idea of our family being sued began to loom large in John’s mind. That is why we disagreed about the need for us to apply for a Marine Parade Permit from the Coast Guard to make the swim at Waikīkī “official.” I knew that many swimmers swam the Roughwater Course every Sunday morning, both one-way and two-way. I had trained at Waikīkī before being the first woman to swim island-to-island in Hawai’i. That was from Lanai to Maui on Mother’s Day 1977. The weekend swimmers saw no need to apply for a permit. Swimmers who swam outside the reef at Waikīkī followed a local practice. We tried to be out of the way when the tour boats exited the Hilton Channel at 1000.
A Marine Parade Permit for a Swim?
I said to John that we triathlon swimmers would be out of the water and on our bicycles long before ten am. John insisted we should have a permit since the annual Waikīkī Roughwater Swim now applied for one for their event. The first leg of our course was the Roughwater Swim Course. We decided to apply for a Coast Guard Marine Parade Permit. I worked at the University of Hawai’i Manoa. John worked at the Shipyard. John picked up the form at the Coast Guard station because where John worked was closer to their office than where I worked.
Paperwork for a club event?
Filling out the Coast Guard application had a bearing on the future of triathlon and Iron Man. Our demonstration triathlon for the swim club would now be an event on an official form. In order to complete the Coast Guard form we had to make some more decisions.
- The form had to be submitted 30 days before the event.
- The form asked for contact names for the swim course and the event.
- The form had a space for the name of the event and a sponsor.
It was the third requirement that slowed us down – an event name and a sponsor. Our goal was to make our Hawaiian triathlon an annual event for the Waikiki Swim Club (WSC). We could not yet call the triathlon a club event or call it the Waikiki Swim Club Triathlon. Could we take a chance and leave the sponsor space blank? Would the 30-day count-down not begin until we had filled in all the blanks on the Coast Guard form?
Keeping it simple
Swim and run club events did not usually have entry forms or paperwork. There might be a sign-up sheet at the start of an activity. Or not. For safety reasons we might count heads in and out of a swim. The date, time and place for an event would go in the club newsletter. For some events we started a timing watch and wrote down finish times. Then athlete names would be matched to their times. The Coast Guard Form changed things. Our long distance triathlon was becoming more than a simple Show and Go demonstration event for our swim club.
What had us stumped on the form was the Sponsor space. Should it be the Collins Family? Judy and John Collins? What if someone should sue us? Name all the individual athletes? We did not yet have their names. The name that we put in the sponsor space might be liable in case there was an injury to an athlete.
We decided to consult a WSC swimmer who was a lawyer. We brainstormed to find a Sponsor Liability solution that would make sense in that space on the Coast Guard Form. The solution was to ask all competitors to request to join the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon Coordinating Committee (H. I. M. T. C. C.). That way we all became members of that organization from the start of the race to the finish. Our temporary committee of competitors was the “sponsor” during the race. The two of us would sign as competitors. Our son Michael signed the form, too, in 1979.
“Honor among athletes”
We believed in athletes. We thought that the athletes who signed up would be extra careful to have a safe race. We believed that the H.I.M.T.C.C. pledge would be a stronger deterrent to lawsuits than a standard liability statement. We thought athletes would not sue other athletes. Plus, if you sued Judy and John Collins you would also be suing yourself. We thought the liability pledge was pretty clever.
Clarification at our house
We invited the athletes to our house to hear the lawyer from our swim club (WSC) explain the liability purpose of the H. I. M. T. C. C. We encouraged the athletes and support teams to ask questions about the format of our triathlon. We had added particular rules to insure athlete good sense on the course. For example, one rule was that any citation by a Police Officer would be an automatic disqualification (DQ). The entry form stated that athletes were on the honor system to comply with the rules. John and the lawyer did the talking. I listened carefully as I sat apart on the stairs. I was beginning to run a fever. I did not want any one there to get sick. I did not want to get sick. John and I were both doing the Iron Man.
Our measure of success
Our goal for our triathlon was to have a safe and enjoyable activity which people would want to do again the next year. We did it! All went well on Saturday 18 February 1978. Fifteen started, 12 finished. All went well the next year too, on Sunday 14 January 1979. We had lost many entrants in 1979 when we had to delay the triathlon for one day for safety reasons. Then fifteen started, 12 finished, again. We chose the next date, Saturday 12 January 1980.
The same liability words
The liability words in 1979 were the same as in 1978. We required that participants apply to be members of the H. I .M. T. C. C. for the duration of the 1979 event. Four of the athletes who signed the form in 1979 had signed a similar form in order to participate in 1978. No one objected to the liability clause on the entry form. No one objected that it was Judy and John Collins who made all the decisions about the triathlon. On Sunday morning there was some disagreement about swimmer safety. John made the decision to return the entry fee to a woman whose support team had threatened to sue us.
A triathlon name and other extras
Choosing a name for the event had led us to make more decisions. We decided to upgrade our demonstration triathlon. We chose: to have a triathlon logo to screen-sprint on participants’ teeshirts; to charge a small fee for packets of powdered electrolyte for athletes to make up to drink; to award individual Finisher trophies that John would design and make and present; to provide paperwork. We would make up an entry form that would include the rules for the triathlon and a map.
We would need an event name and a design logo if we had teeshirts for the triathlon. John would learn how to make a screen print. We would do the printing at our house.
Dr. Jack Scaff at the Honolulu Marathon Clinic had told each of us to seek a steady run pace. Scaff said we would know when we had found our personal pace. We would have the feeling that we could keep going forever. I remember trying to keep up with a marathon runner who had that keep-going-forever pace. His nickname was “Slow Joe.” Another steady pace runner worked in the Design Department at the Shipyard where John worked. His nickname was “Iron Man.”
A runner we admired
We recalled what John had spoken in my ear on the night we had made our triathlon decision. He had said to me, “…Whoever finishes first we’ll call Him the Iron Man.” “Iron Man” could keep running at the same speed hour after hour. We would need to pace ourselves to get to the finish line. We would do the triathlon as if We were “Iron Man.” When we decided on a teeshirt logo we decided on a name. Our around O’ahu triathlon became The (Inaugural) Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
A logo that fit the triathlon
The daughter of John’s secretary at the Shipyard offered to sketch some logo designs.
We picked the design that was based on the the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz.” John added some details to the Tin Man drawing. There was a running cap with a short brim, as on a Marine’s cap, and running shoes with a Nike swish. The running figure was framed in a triangle. The three sides of the triangle underlined 4 words: Hawaiian, Iron Man, Triathlon. Inside the lines of the triangle were the Swim, Bike, Run distances.
The teeshirt option
We all had plenty of teeshirts. We decided that the participants who wanted a shirt could provide their own, new or used. The best would be light-colored teeshirts that had a blank side on them.
We would screen-print their shirts on our dining room table at the pre-race meeting. We would hang the shirts to dry until they were picked up after the triathlon. We would screen print the word “Finisher” on the shirts of those of us who made it to the finish line. Participants could choose to provide teeshirts for their support teams. There would be one triathlon logo for all.
The electrolyte drink
The Marathon Clinic’s guru, Dr. Scaff, had emphasized to us the importance of hydration and electrolytes, especially in the tropics. That is why we provided the athletes with packets of powder to make up an electrolyte drink. It was called E.R.G., electrolyte replacement with glucose. “Gookinade” was invented by a member of the San Diego Track Club. It was said that Bill Gookin had come up with the formula by wringing out his teeshirts post-run. He then analyzed what had been lost in his sweat as he ran.
Finishers as winners
We took another idea from the Honolulu Marathon philosophy. Every finisher was a winner. Every marathon runner was presented a seed lei at the finish line. The first place finisher received a seed lei plus the best finish time of the day. We kept in mind another marathon concept for our long triathlon. The list of finish times would range from the first-to-finish to the last-to-finish. Athletes in the Honolulu Marathon were invited to set new records at either end. That statement made us all feel welcome.
The finisher trophies in 1978 and 1979
John designed, made and presented a Finisher trophy to each athlete who crossed the marathon finish line in Kapiolani Park. In 1978 the Trophies were given to the athletes when they came to our house to pick up their teeshirts. In 1979 we picked a place at Honolulu Harbor that now had a link to Hawaiian history. The awards ceremony was dockside of the recreated Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokūlēi’a.
The home-made Iron Man trophies
The trophies were put together in our tropical garage on Pi’ikea Street. Our daughter Kristin helped John with that tricky task. John had bought hardware store copper tubing which he bent into a stick figure. He soldered on a head made of a 1/2 inch steel nut. The metal figure was painted black then mounted on a wood base. The words from the race logo were photo-engraved on an aluminum plate. The plate was attached to the wood base of the trophy.
The bare-bones entry fee
We left the entry fee blank on some entry forms in order to put the number in later. We wanted to insure the lowest possible number that would cover our triathlon costs. We wanted our triathlon to be a swim club event. Swim club events had no entry fees. But our triathlon was very long. We wanted the athletes to remember the occasion. We chose to provide electrolyte drink packets, a design logo to imprint on athletes’ shirts, a memorable trophy for each finisher. We charged $5 the first year and lost a few dollars. We charged $8 the next year and came out even. We told the entrants that we would refund the money that we did not use for expenses. In the third year Nautilus Fitness Centers required a $10 entry fee.
The self-support requirement, an obstacle to entry
The self-support requirement for entry was a hard condition to meet. A paddler was required for the swim in 1978 and 1979. The paddler was a guide for the swimmer and a water safety back-up from our point of view. Having a paddler meant having a board for the paddler. Transport for the paddler and the board was part of the picture too. A driver and a vehicle were the minimum that was required to support the athlete in the bike and run segments. It was hard to find someone to do that. It would be a big time commitment. The driver/support person would use dimes to make calls from public phones to the triathlon headquarters. The support person was to report the position of the athlete on the triathlon course. The support team would help with food and drink and bicycle tasks.
The minimum support team
For most people the support team was one person, the driver of the support vehicle. In a live-streamed video interview in 2018 we learned something about the support team of Gordon Haller. Haller was the first to finish in 1978. Haller said that he had a support team of 6 people. The six people included a masseur. Were the 6 people two shifts of three or 6 for the whole long day? By self-support team we expected a paddler and a driver, two people. One time period would be short, less than 2 hours. The other time commitment would be long, 12 hours or more, minimum.
It was hard for us to find a driver/paddler team for our own entries. That was because our children – 2 paddlers, 1 driver – were not available on 18 February. They were in a mandatory State Championship Scholastic Swim Meet that same day. On race day I had to be a last-minute DNS (Did Not Start). I was unable to drive. That is why we know first-hand how hard it was to round up a support team for John for The Inaugural Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
One big benefit of joining three island events into one long triathlon was that the rules and permits were already in place. We added to those rules for safety reasons. We did not require bicycle helmets in year one. We required helmets in year two. Some of the athletes came up with hard sports helmets that were not made for bicycles. Each swimmer was required to have a paddler in 1978 and 1979. Each athlete was required to have a support team. There was no way for us to know whether they did or not. We know that some swam without a paddler for one reason or another. We know that some planned to share vehicle support. A swimmer with a paddler had a navigation advantage. Gordon Haller was first to finish in 1978. He said in 2018 that he had 6 on his support team. One was a masseur.
English Channel Rules and more
The swim rules were based on the ocean swim standard, “English Channel Rules.” That meant no flotation, no wetsuits, no fins. Athletes were to provide a paddler on a board to be their course guide. Paddlers could point the way. Swimmers could not touch or rest on a paddler’s board. To do so was a disqualification (DQ). The marathon had course rules too. We used the Roughwater and Marathon instructions as guides for the swim and run courses.
Athlete support teams and more
For the bicycle portion we relied on the paperwork we had from the O’ahu Perimeter Relays. The roads for the bike included the paved roads from the Relays. The relays required runners to have support teams. We added a tracking requirement. Support teams would call in from certain pay phones around the island. The night we had come up with the idea I had asked a member of the Mid-Pacific Road Runners Club (M-PRRC) about how to notify the Police Department about our event. He told me that we should address a letter to the Chief of Police for the City and County of Honolulu. We should describe our activity. Our letter should say we would maintain a low profile and would follow all traffic laws. Those requirements went into our rules.
The life-time right to talk about it
Our favorite line on the entry form was “…Brag the rest of your life” after the Swim…, Bike…Run… distance lines. A license to talk about a Finish later was an inside joke. The punch-line of that conversation had been, “You shouldn’t be able to talk about an event for longer than it took to do it.” For some of us the talking-about-it part would be an incentive to enter the event. With great delight we had mentioned that right on the night we had said, “If you do it, I’ll do it.”
Spreading the word
With all that preparation we decided to publicize the triathlon by calling the newspapers and a popular radio station. By the time the Coast Guard form was in and we had a date we were past time to get the information into the monthly club newsletters. We spread the news by word-of-mouth, with a call to a popular radio station, with calls to the local papers. There were some errors in that publicity but it worked. We talked up our triathlon at weekly swim and run events.
THE FIRST TWO HAWAIIAN IRON MAN TRIATHLONS
In 1978 and 1979 fifteen started and finished the swim outside the reef at Waikīkī. Twelve finished the entire triathlon. Those were the only two Roughwater Swim years. In 1980 the Swim was held in the protected lagoon at the Ala Moana Beach Park.
SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY 1978
THE INAUGURAL HAWAIIAN IRON MAN TRIATHLON
Up and about before sunrise
Athletes and Triathlon volunteers were up and about the island long before the stated 7am start time on Saturday, 18 February 1978. The swim began at 7:19 am. Fifteen athletes completed the swim. Twelve athletes crossed the finish line in Kapiolani Park. A swim friend volunteer, Harold Sexton, brought his power boat around the island from Kaneohe Bay. On the Waikīkī side Sexton picked up another swim friend who would be the swim course volunteer lifeguard. The lifeguard, Dave Drum, ended up coaching one swimmer to hurry him along. Then the lifeguard became John’s driver. A run friend with a sailboat, Bill Walden, got underway from the Ala Wai Harbor. Walden anchored close to the end of the swim course. The mast on his yacht showed the location of the Hilton channel, the way through the reef. The swimmers were to turn there to go in to the beach.
The minimum 2.385 mile swim
The stop-watches for the day were all started at the same time, at 7:19 am. The swim start was at San Souci Beach by Kapiolani Park. Marine radios were on hand for the race staff volunteers to use as needed. Two run friend volunteers, Bill Larson and Lew Felton, were at the swim finish at the Hale Koa/Fort DeRussy beach. They recorded the swim finish times. There the swimmers could shower and change, then mount their bicycles.
The estimated 112 mile bicycle course
The athletes bicycled out to Kalakaua Avenue. They rode back past the swim start and past Diamond Head. The bike course was counter-clockwise around the island. Bicyclists pedaled through Kailua town, past Kaneohe, on to the North Shore and Haleiwa, then up and over and down Kunia Road. They could see from Kunia Road where they would go. They would bike past Pearl Harbor and the airport and on to Aloha Tower. The official timers drove to Pearl Harbor after the last swimmer was in. There they tracked the participants on a large wall map of the island. Support teams used dimes to call in athlete positions from pay phones around the island. The drivers and the athletes ate their own food and drink or bought it on the course. One volunteer with a stop-watch would be at Aloha Tower to time the bicyclists as they arrived there.
The measured 26 mile 385 yard marathon
Aloha Tower was the start of the course of the Honolulu Marathon. Runners then ran by Honolulu on Ala Moana Boulevard, through Waikīkī, past Diamond Head, out to the loop at Hawai’i Kai and back to Kapiolani Park. Our son and his friend Dan Richardson recorded names and times at the finish line by the bandstand in Kapiolani Park. The marathon finish line was a permanent wide white stripe across Kalakaua Avenue. John and I relieved the finish timers after John crossed the line. After a time we talked with the team of the last finisher. They would call us at home when the athlete crossed the finish line. It all worked.
SUNDAY 14 JANUARY 1979
THE SECOND ANNUAL HAWAIIAN IRON MAN TRIATHLON
A weekend of high winds
The Second Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon was held on Sunday 14 January 1979 at 8 am. Fifteen completed the swim. Twelve crossed the finish line in Kapiolani Park. We had delayed the event one day, from 13 January 1979. We had received phone calls from the owners of the support boats. High winds had kept both boats in port.
The decision to cancel on Saturday
We received two early morning phone calls about the weather on Sunday, too. We were not surprised. The wind was whistling around our house. Our son was entered in the triathlon. We told him to stay in bed. We would drive to the swim start to cancel the triathlon. We would cancel for the same reason as on Saturday. We had no boat to safeguard the swimmers.
My main contribution in 1979 was to find a boat to make it possible to hold the triathlon after all. It was a close thing.
The cancellation on day two
The athletes did not like it when John made the cancellation announcement on Sunday morning and gave the reason. There was some drama. Early on a swimmer ran up to me. Ian Emberson was a member of the Waikiki Swim Club and the Outrigger Canoe Club (OCC). He said I should ask the Outrigger for the use of their boat. I told John to hold on. The Outrigger club house was near the start. I ran down to ask the critical question about their power boat. The answer was yes. I called Michael from a phone on the wall of the club. I said: we will delay the start until 8am so that you can get down here; call your support person to pick up your bicycle and race gear at the house; grab your goggles and take the car. I ran back to give the good news to John and the athletes. Then I returned to the Outrigger Clubhouse.
Saved by The Outrigger
What good luck it was that the OCC boat driver of the OCC launch volunteered to help on very short notice. Thank you, Outrigger! The two of us who were the Swim Course Lifeguards waded out to climb into the Outrigger launch. We motored out through the reef before the 8am start. The waters were bumpy, rough. We retrieved one paddler who had been blown away from the swimmer he was guiding. His swimmer had told us to go after him. We expected the wind might be hard on the paddlers. The swimmers would be fine. The triathlon was on after all.
He who followed the rules in 1979
We had left our son Michael at home on Sunday because we intended to cancel the triathlon again. When the Outrigger boat became available I had called Michael. He should drive to the start. The race was on. His friend could pick up his race gear. Michael’s support crew ended up picking up my bicycle instead of Michael’s race-ready bicycle. Michael was a fast swimmer. He had an early start on the bike course. He had swum very fast to keep up with the lead paddlers. Then he lost all the time on the bike course that he had gained from his fast swim. A thirsty and hungry and discouraged Michael followed the honor system rules. He sat by the road in Kaneohe with a non-working bicycle until his support crew, Jeff Cleve, found him. The Triathlon rule that applied to Michael’s situation was this. Athletes who left the course to seek help would be automatically disqualified (DQed).
Hawaiian Iron Man local publicity plus publicity on the mainland in 1979
1979 had been our second year of good local publicity. There had even been a short editorial in praise of our 16 year old son Michael Collins. We received national publicity too. 1979 Iron Man winner Tom Warren had appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The nut-for-a-head on the Ironman trophy fell off on camera, good for a laugh. Swim-Swim magazine had published the results of the 1979 Iron Man in their April-May issue. There was an 8 page story about 4 of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon athletes in the Sports Illustrated (SI) edition of 14 May 1979. Two sentences about two athletes – Dunbar and Collins – were incorrect but overall the SI article was a good read. The West Coast Roughwater Swim Newsletter had a notice about our Hawaiian Iron Man, “A triathlon to end all triathlons.”
The first 1/2 Iron Man triathlon
There was an Iron Man spin-off event in 1979, too. That news was a boost to our spirits. Maui-born Phillip (Moki) Martin put on a 1/2 distance Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. Martin’s Superfrog Triathlon was held in Coronado, California. We made plans and set the date for the Third Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. It would be on Saturday 12 January in 1980.
Saying yes to ABC Wide World of Sports
The 1979 Iron Man publicity on the mainland had led to a call from ABC Wide World of Sports. ABC said their cameras would be on the island when they filmed the Hula Bowl. Could they film the 14 January 1980 Triathlon? We said yes to ABC with one provision. We could spare no volunteers. Wide World of Sports would have to self-support just like the athletes. ABC would be on their own to find their way around the island.
THE SUMMER OF 1979
A TURNING POINT FOR IRON MAN
An unexpected move
We were on track with our plans for the third Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. Then our lives took a turn. We had planned to retire in Honolulu. Honolulu had been my home in childhood years. It was home in the 1970’s for our family of four. Our contribution to the local community was all set. We would put on and be in the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon each year. We had bought a home. In 1978 and 1980 both children would graduate from high school in Honolulu and be off to college at Annapolis. I had a new career in Public Policy for Renewable Energy. Now John had Navy orders. We would be moving from Hawai’i before the 1980 Iron Man.
The search for a Race Director for 1980
Right away we looked for a Race Director and volunteer help for Iron Man. Our small staff of volunteers had moved elsewhere. We had expected the swim, run or bike clubs would want to take over the triathlon.
“No, thank you” from individuals in the Athletic Clubs
I contacted the athletic clubs. The swim club and run club members who supported the Triathlon wanted to be in it. No one wanted to do both, to be in it and to be in charge of it. The bicyclists had said they would help in 1977 until we made a scheduling mistake. We had picked our Triathlon date to be the same weekend as their bike ride in 1978. Now it looked like the 1980 Iron Man would not happen. There would no longer be a long distance triathlon on the calendar of the local athletic clubs in Honolulu.
“No, thank you” from individuals in other organizations
John had contacted the local Nautilus Fitness Center, the national Nautilus organization, the Tourist Office, and other likely sponsors in Hawai’i and elsewhere. The “No, thank you” replies came in various forms. We were surprised at how many people were not interested. I was President of the Waikiki Swim Club that year. That was not much help. The incoming President and Board promised volunteers from the Club on Triathlon Day if we could find someone to be the Race Director. Waikiki Swim Club members very much wanted the Iron Man to continue. Several swimmers had done the Iron Man and more swimmers were training to do it.
The last chance for the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon
It was 15 October 1979. The next morning movers would pack us up to move from Hawai’i. We were boxing up our household goods including the Triathlon paperwork. There would be no Iron Man Triathlon on the 1980 Calendar that I was writing. I would pass out that draft calendar on 16 October at the Waikiki Swim Club (WSC) Annual Meeting of 1979.
“What can I do to help?”
At the 1977 WSC Annual Meeting John and I had been happy to make the first public announcement about our around-the-island triathlon. At the 1979 WSC Annual Meeting I would have to announce there would not be a Third Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. I felt very sad about that. John said to me, “What can I do to help?” How sweet were those words to my ear. I blurted out, “Get rid of the Iron Man!”
The offer of volunteers from the Waikīkī Swim Club
That was when I asked John to go down to Nautilus to ask Hank Grundman, a second time, to be Race Director for the upcoming 1980 Iron Man Triathlon. I convinced John to make one last try because our time was up. Everyone else had turned us down. Plus we had new information. The recent promise of race-day volunteers from the Waikiki Swim Club might make a difference to Grundman. John put the box of Iron Man paperwork on his Triumph motorcycle and headed to downtown Honolulu in the late afternoon.
Gordon Haller’s Nautilus sponsor
John and I knew that “Nautilus” had sponsored 1978 first-to-finish Gordon Haller in 1978 and 1979. Nautilus had donated teeshirts and two commercial trophies to our triathlon in 1979.
Hank Grundman to the rescue
John had talked to Hank Grundman once or twice before. I never did meet Grundman. On 15 October 1979 Grundman said yes to being the Race Director for the 1980 Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. No money changed hands. No papers were signed. John handed our box of triathlon paperwork to Grundman.
The “Ordinary Athlete” quid pro quo
When Grundman accepted our paperwork for 1980 in October 1979 he asked “What do you want for this?” John’s answer was, “Nothing.” Then John modified his answer and added two things, “…in case the triathlon should ever have cut-off times.” John wanted a place in future triathlons for ordinary athletes and a place for members of the Collins family. The place for everyday athletes later became the Ironman lottery which exists in various forms to this day.
The transfer of our “Iron Man box”
John told me the details of what had happened when he arrived home. What a relief it was to hear that good news. Everything about our complicated move seemed easy after that. John told me that Grundman had picked up a phone and asked someone to “come up.” Moments later Grundman handed our box to a woman and said, “Take care of this.” That is all we knew then. We know now that Valerie Silk must have been the woman who took care of the box.
Our Iron Man box as a source of a false official history of Ironman origins
I did not inventory the box that I handed to John. I had made a desperate, spur-of-the-moment request to try to save “our baby,” the 1980 Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
What we did not know in 1979
Grundman did not know that it was Judy Collins and John Collins who had created the Hawaiian Iron Man. We did not know that Grundman had a wife. We did not know for decades that Hank Grundman had told his wife that the Iron Man Triathlon was John’s idea. We did not meet Grundman’s wife until 1983. What Grundman told his wife and whatever papers were in the box would make a dramatic difference in our personal lives. Together they would be a source of an incorrect written history of Iron Man.
AFTER WE LEFT HAWAI’I
THE THIRD ANNUAL HAWAIIAN IRON MAN TRIATHLON
Race Director Hank Grundman and the Nautilus Iron Man Triathlon
The Iron Man “As scheduled” plus changes
Grundman and Nautilus held the 1980 Nautilus Iron Man Triathlon on Saturday,12 January as scheduled. We learned some details many years later. 108 athletes were at the start. The 94 who crossed the finish line included three women. In 1980 the swim was not outside the reef at Waikīkī. The entry fee was $10. Personal paddlers were prohibited. Athletes were weighed to monitor their hydration. The awards were a Nautilus shell replica.
A 4k swim in a protected lagoon
Grundman made the decision to hold the swim in the still waters of the lagoon in Ala Moana Beach Park. Stormy weather that day had made the Waikīkī swim course too rough for a safe swim for a large field of entrants. ABC Wide World of Sports filmed the Nautilus Iron Man Triathlon. Grundman might have delayed the start for one day to get past the storm. We had done that in 1979. We hear that ABC had told Grundman they could not be there to film on Sunday.
Out of touch and far away
We were living far away on the East Coast on 12 January 1980. We would hear about the 1980 Ironman in personal notes that came in our Waikiki Swim Club newsletter. We were “off the lily pad” as a friend would say. We had no way to record TV. We saw one or two snippets of ABC’s broadcast in the early 1980’s.
From Race Director Hank Grundman to Race Director Valerie Silk
By the next year Valerie Silk had become the Race Director for the Iron Man.
From Honolulu, O’ahu to KaiIua-Kona, Hawai’i
Silk moved the 1981 Iron Man to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
It was Silk who would combine the two words “Iron Man” to make one word, “Ironman.” Silk would move the time of year of the Triathlon from the rainy season to the month of October. In 1982 there would be an Ironman in February and an Ironman in October. Silk would continue what we had agreed to in 1979, the television coverage of the Triathlon by ABC. Silk would add prize money to the Ironman in equal amounts for women and men. It was Valerie Silk who made the Ironman Triathlon a name that would be known around the world.
No longer a local event
The local, self-supported, “home-grown” long distance triathlon that we had run from our living room was no more. We left Hawai’i and the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon at the end of October 1979. We returned to Hawai’i in October of 1983. Ironman Triathlon had become a new sport.
Two Valentines Days
The first Kona Ironman was on 14 February 1981. That was four years from Valentines Day 1977, the night that John and I planned an endurance triathlon for Hawai’i. We would not know the exact date of either event until we began to research Ironman origins over 20 years later. In fact, we had never discussed the origins of our Iron Man with each other or with any of the athletes or with Silk. Each of us assumed that we both had the same memories of the night of our decision. We were wrong about that.
SATURDAY 14 FEBRUARY 1981
A NEW ERA FOR A SPORT AND ITS PARTICIPANTS
Ironman Triathlon in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, Aloha, Ohana
Silk added the Hawaiian concepts of Aloha – love – and Ohana – family – to our O’ahu endurance event. Silk would create a Big Island Ironman family to support Ironman triathletes. A lot of people did a lot of work with a lot of love. The triathlon volunteers worked with Silk and a small staff to help the Ironman to continue to grow. The Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawai’i was on its way to a future that we had not imagined back in 1977 in Honolulu. It would take many years.
Ironman Triathlon around the Pacific and around the world
The Hawaiian Triathlon Corporation (HTC) would be followed by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). Television broadcasts by ABC would be followed by Kona broadcasts by NBC. Ironman would become a for-profit brand-name sport. Television coverage spurred the growth of the sport. Ironman Triathlons were held around the rim of the Pacific ocean and beyond. The beneficiaries would be thousands of persons around the globe. The new sport came to them. Ironman triathlons were held close to home for many participants. Great numbers of triathletes-to-be lucked out. They signed up to take part in a new endurance adventure.
The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon years
The women in the Iron Man and some other notes
In 1978 I was the only woman who had entered. I had to be a last minute Did Not Start (DNS). I had hit the wall after a year of best times and was running a fever. My friend Sid Hendrickson had said she would do it. Then her husband talked her into driving for him.
The Ironman cut-off time
John Collins and Dan Hendrickson were both finishers in 1978. It was just a coincidence that John’s finish time was within seconds of what is now the cut-off time for Ironman finishers at Kona.
The Collins and Hendrickson couples were the four who had said to each other in 1977, “If you do it, I’ll do it.”
Three new records in 1979
In 1979 the first woman finished the Iron Man. That set a record. Lyn Lemaire was a bicyclist from Boston who finished in 5th place. Sixteen year old Michael Collins was the youngest to finish in 1979. He also set the new record for the last to finish.
Three women in 1980
In 1980 there were three women finishers including Honolulu swimmer Eve Anderson. Anderson was a veteran of the Honolulu Marathon and the Waikīkī Roughwater Swim. She did not enter the Iron Man Triathlon until she knew for sure she could do it. She rode the bicycle course on her own one Sunday. Anderson may have been the first Hawaiian Iron Man participant who had ridden the entire bicycle course before signing up for the Triathlon.
The sports calendar year
The New Year in amateur sport
In Honolulu the short course run and swim events began in March. That was when the Honolulu Marathon Clinic began its training sessions. The talks and runs were held on Sunday mornings at the Bandstand in Kapiolani Park. By summertime the runs and swims were longer. Swim events peaked on Labor Day weekend with three big events over three days. They were the Lanai-Maui Channel Relays, a long course swim meet in Honolulu in a 50 meter pool and the Waikiki Roughwater Swim on Monday. The run calendar year ended in Mid-December with the Honolulu Marathon.
After the off-season
It was the custom to keep the calendar open for four weeks after the Marathon. That was the off-season. Then came a few pre-season events. The next event on the schedule had been the O’ahu Perimeter Relays. We had planned our first triathlon to be four weeks after the Relays, in mid-February. January storms had delayed the Relays in 1977. We see that we picked one Hawaiian Iron Man date to be in February and two in mid-January. The two January dates had stormy weather.
The rainy season crowd
We had been surprised to realize that we knew few of the triathlon entrants in 1978 and 1979. The athletes who wanted to sign up contacted us. We did not know how to contact them directly. Few of us knew each other. We recognized some from run and swim events. We knew the phone number of one entrant in 1978 – a friend – and of one entrant in 1979 – our son.
Fair weather exercise friends
Where were the friends we had thought would sign up to do the triathlon? We concluded that they preferred fair weather events. We had scheduled the three O’ahu triathlons during the few openings that were open on the sports calendar. Those were in the rainy and windy months of the year.
The local weather conditions for The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon
Saturday, 18 February 1978 was a fair weather day. John recalled there was some rain as he bicycled through Kailua town. January 13 and 14, 1979 were very windy. Wind was less a problem for the swimmers than it was for the paddlers who guided them.
The problem with wind
One paddler was blown seaward in 1979 and we motored out to retrieve him. The weather worry on 13 January 1979 was that the slick roads and the wind could blow a bicyclist into the path of a bus on the North Shore of the island. Plus, our Coast Guard permit stated we would have a boat to safeguard the swimmers. Wind on the seas had kept both support boats in port on both days in 1979. Hawaiians had long known that the weather at Waikīkī might be sunny and fair when weather elsewhere on the the island was not. That was good for us. The Outrigger Canoe Club launch that we were able to use on Sunday, 14 January was stored and launched near the swim start at Waikīkī.
Our sports apparel and training in Hawai’i
Bicycling garb for hot weather
John and I had bought bicycle shorts in Northern California in the early 1970’s. We wore them on bicycle trips and long bike rides for many years. They were wool knit black tights with a chamois pad. I usually wore a short skirt over them. The bicycle shorts were very comfortable. We had no complaints. The children may have worn double knit nylon jersey Speedos under shorts or a skirt. We bought a batch of traditional kerchiefs, sewed them into tubes, threaded elastic through one end. We used these to cover our lower arms when we bicycled in the heat wearing short sleeve tops with collars. The cloth tubes were a very useful accessory because they would fit over exposed leg parts too. I have leg and arm accessories now that serve the same purpose.
Swim suits for practice and racing
We swam in double knit nylon jersey Speedos for swim practice in pools. We wore tighter one-piece swim suits for competition in the ocean or pools. I remember sharing a Lycra suit at a Swim Meet when they first came out in 1974. A friend’s daughter had won one at a National Swim Meet. We went to Masters Nationals in Santa Clara, CA. Several of us thought we swam faster when we put on that sleek black stretch suit. I wore a stretch print one piece swim suit when I became the first woman to swim island-to-island in Hawai’i. I was advised by a Shark Research Scientist swimmer to swim in a print that would not attract the sharks that were there. That is how I remember that in 1977 it was hard to find a competition swim suit that did not have bright colors.
Women wore bikinis in Hawai’i when body-surfing. The bikinis had to be tight enough to stay on during a tumble in breaking surf. It was a good test. That same bikini fit was good underwear for running. Over that we wore nylon running shorts and what we called puka shirts. The shirts were made of cloth that had holes in it. That cloth is still seen in Sporting Goods stores for team clothing. We were told at the Marathon Clinic to wear hats to keep cool while running. John and I had wide-brim, silvered, reflective hats. We wore them when we ran a leg in the hot sun in the O’ahu Perimeter Relays. It was like running under an umbrella.
Names on shirts
Shirts for sport and event shirts rarely had a business name on them. There might be a team name or a club name or an event name such as the Honolulu Marathon and logo. We were told at the Marathon Clinic that an empty shirt was a wasted shirt. We should put our name on the front or the back so that people could call out to us as they passed us or cheered us on. The typical imprint was a person’s name preceded by Aloha. My white sleeveless Honolulu Marathon puka shirt said “Aloha Judy” on it.
We were told to carry a lightweight beer can when we ran. Aluminum was best. We cut the top off and turned the rim. We were to have it in hand so that we could fill it from garden hoses or faucets or drinking fountains as we ran. We were to take a swig every 20 minutes or so or pour some water on ourselves.
Some of our running shoes could be resoled. Those cost more. I wore Adidas early on. I couldn’t resole them. When they showed wear on the soles we applied Shoe Goo to build up the places that had worn down.
John bought a very tall Schwinn Super Sport in Northern California on which he upgraded everything. I remember that he had Phil Wood hubs among his new components. When we had bicycled to Yosemite the children had new, heavy Schwinn Varsity bicycles. I had a lightweight and sleek woman’s Peugeot. It would shimmy and hum on a steep downhill. Later I acquired a stiffer road bike, a Fuji. Our family rode the Schwinn’s and the Peugeot in the Mission Bay Triathlon in 1974. We bought a good Schwinn Sportstourer road bike from a friend in Hawai’i. Three in the family could use it. John rode his blue, upgraded Super Sport in the 1978 Iron Man.
Michael had a blue Azuki that he prepared for the 1979 Iron Man. Michael’s support team, Jeff Cleve, picked up my bicycle on Triathlon Day 1979, by mistake. My bike was not set up for Iron Man and had no tools. The bicycle mix-up was part of a very long day on the Iron Man course.
We sometimes wore flatter and less flexible running or bicycle shoes on long bike rides. We used leather strap clips on our pedals in the 1970’s. John switched to bicycle shoes with clips before I did. We have a photo of John Collins in the Iron Man in 1978. He appears to be wearing a ball cap in reverse. Michael Collins wore a hard skid lid in the Iron Man in 1979. That was the year we required hard headgear for the Iron Man participants. We have a Bell Helmet in Panamá that bears our address from the early 1980’s. Some of the hard white foam on that helmet is deteriorating, finally. We wear helmets now that are lighter and adjustable and shiny. We wore leather and crochet bicycle gloves in the 1970’s. Those bicycle gloves still feel good.
We did not wear swim goggles when we started to swim in pools in 1973. Our whole family had chlorine eyes after late swim practice. The streetlights looked like they had halos around them. I remember the big moment in Honolulu when I found a small store that sold swim goggles. They were quite a luxury and hard to find in Honolulu. When we swam in the ocean or in the pool without goggles we closed and opened our eyes to match our breathing pattern.
Waterproof watches were not commonplace when we lived in Hawai’i. Some had diving watches. They were heavy and expensive. A swimmer in a race would not choose to wear one. I remember when a swim friend with good goggles found a diving watch in the sand under the waves. He gave the watch to our son. Michael wore that watch for months. Then he lost it in the surf on that very same beach where it had been found.
When we say about the Iron Man swim starts, “…the race watches were started…” we are talking about the stop watches that were used to time the swim. Swimmers in races did not encumber themselves with heavy timepieces even if they had them.
We who were recreational athletes in the 1970’s had the latest of everything and kept current with our sports of interest. Then as now. We had bicycling, swimming and running books. We had subscriptions to Running and Bicycling magazines. Michael Collins subscribed to Sports Illustrated. The Honolulu Marathon Clinic had been started by Cardiologists who specialized in exercise for rehabilitation. We heard the latest in a 15 minute sports talk every Sunday morning before we started running. We heard from visiting marathon runners and ultra marathon runners from the U.S. and from other Pacific countries. Everyone liked to visit Hawai’i. We exchanged new information with each other from coaches and experts from there and elsewhere.
Our outside activities
We had shirts that said “Swim Hawai’i” and that had our team name on them, “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.” A popular Mid-Pacific Road Runners shirt said on it, “Lucky We Run Hawai’i.” It was a pleasure to swim and to run in Hawai’i. Everything was close-by.
We did not bicycle very much on O’ahu. John continued to bicycle to work as he had for many years in many places. The children continued to bicycle when their swim workouts were nearby. I bicycled when our 1968 VW van did not start. Our son Michael and a neighbor started a bicycle repair business when we lived at Pearl Harbor. Michael and Brian Jones went on some long rides away from the City. John and I had taken a bicycle vacation on Maui when we lived in California. We rode and camped all over the island wherever we happened to be. It was a good time to be on Maui because there was not much automobile traffic. We had arrived there during a fuel shortage. When we moved to O’ahu there was a lot of traffic on the roads. Running and swimming were more inviting than bicycling.
Oh, by the way, tracking the athletes at the finish line
The finish lists in the 1970’s and after that were low tech. We did things one way for short events – such as the Mission Bay Triathlon in 1974, another way for long events like the Iron Man Triathlon in 1978. It depended on the likely spacing of the athletes at the finish line. It depended on whether or not there was a list of the athletes beforehand.
One recorder for the swim-ladder
A minimum one, two or three volunteers might be needed at the finish. They would note the times and match times to names. In Honolulu it was pretty simple. There was a swim in the Ala Moana lagoon every Saturday morning. Swimmers could choose to swim 1k or 2k after they were in the water. The swim finish recording was done by one person who did not swim at that time. She or he had lined paper and a stopwatch. Time first, name second. The finish time range in minutes might be from the 20’s to the 40’s. We maintained a weekly 1k swim ladder list and a 2k swim ladder list.
The first-runner-to-finish task
The finish time list for our weekly 3 mile run in Coronado was a one person operation. It could be done by a volunteer who did not run. Often the list was started by the first-to-finish. Other finishers would relieve him. In 1974 the fast first person at the weekly run around the Golf course was “Curly” Collins. “Go!” A stop-watch was started and left at the Start/Finish location. There was a piece of paper on a clipboard. Curly would finish and note his time, write down both and continue recording. He might be relieved by another volunteer finisher. That result was our run-ladder weekly list.
The finish-time routine at the Mission Bay Triathlon
The routine at the Mission Bay Triathlon involved three people. The timers at the finish were two – one with a watch who would call out a time, the second with time-tick sheets of minutes and seconds. The first finisher’s minute time became the first minute-sheet heading. The first finisher’s seconds were the first in the seconds’ line. Or there would be spaces on the paper #0 to #59 for the seconds. 55:44 would be 55 in the minutes space, then a time-tick in the space for second #44. One of those two timers would hand the athlete a numbered popsicle stick. If there were 47 entrants there would be popsicle sticks in order from #1 to #47. If 2 entrants became a 2-person relay team then the last finisher would get #46.
Numbered popsicle sticks
The popsicle sticks were handed out to athletes in numerical order. The athlete then went to the recorder. The recorder wrote down the athlete’s name on a list that was a sequence of numbers, first to last. The number on the popsicle stick matched the number list location where the name was recorded. NOTE: If an athlete gave the recorder his or her name without handing over the numbered popsicle stick the athlete would not be on the finish list. That is likely what happened to John Collins on 25 September 1974. His name was never recorded. The organizers had one more finisher on the time sheet than they had names on the finisher list. That confusion became a separate story later.
Fool-proof race-timing variations
There were some clever and efficient variations of the finish list routines. We remember two that did not work out. John designed one to speed up the time before the Awards were presented at the Waikiki Roughwater Swim. I structured the other for the Portobelo, Panamá Triathlon. Mine was a variation of the efficient system used at the Coronado Fourth of July ocean swim. Those two fool-proof plans were too simple to be believed by the volunteers. There were time delays before the results were accurate. The athletes were not happy to have to wait for the awards. We always told organizers they should ask the athletes when there was confusion about finish order. Most athletes know Who Came in When in their category. That was especially true when swimmers started wearing waterproof watches. Finish delays can still happen now in the era of electronic ankle bracelet timing and timing mats. What worked for us then will still work now. When in doubt ask the athletes. They know the finish order.
A LOOK BACK AT THE 1970’S
AND EARLY IRONMAN HISTORY
Women still faced obstacles to participation in many sports in the 1970’s. But things were looking up in the United States. In 1972 the Title IX Equity in Sports Act was passed in the U.S. Congress. One effect of the law was that women could compete for college athletic scholarships. Title IX changed the lives of girls and women in the U.S.
I think of seven women when I think about early Ironman history. The seven women are Patsy Mink, Flo Squires, Judy Collins, Carin Vanderbush, Valerie Silk, Kristin Collins Galbreaith and Paula Newby-Fraser.
In 2002 the Title IX Equity in Sports Act of 1972 was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. The Congressional Co-sponsor of the legislation had been Congresswoman from Hawai’i Patsy Mink. Scholastic sports were opened to girls because women could now compete for college athletic scholarships.
Flo Squires was a swim friend in the Coronado Masters Association. Flo joined the San Diego Track Club (SDTC) because she loved to run. Flo and I talked as she ran beside me in my first non-stop one mile run. It was on the beach in Coronado, California in 1974. Flo set the pace for John and me when we ran our first 5 miles non-stop. It was high atop Point Loma in San Diego, looking down over Coronado.
It was Flo Squires who talked our family into taking part in a San Diego Track Club (SDTC) event one Wednesday evening. The Mission Bay “Triathlon” was a 10 leg event that included three activities: running, bicycling and swimming. I began mapping out run-bike-swim triathlon courses in my head from that day on.
I am the woman who fell in love with run-bike-swim events at Mission Bay, San Diego on 25 September 1974. John and I then gave a run-bike-swim sales pitch to our swim coach in Coronado. Flo Squires and John and I had skipped our Wednesday swim workout to be in the SDTC “triathlon.” Stan Antrim made fun of the activity. Then he surprised us. He added a bike-run-swim-run triathlon to the Coronado Optimist Sports Fiesta on 27 July 1975. Our family moved to Hawai’i that summer.
In February 1977 I was the woman who wanted to introduce triathlon to Hawai’i. John and I were fans of endurance events on the mainland, lived on an island, wanted to try something new. John and I would never have planned our long distance triathlon if I had not been determined to do so. We made that decision on the night of the Mid-Pacific Road Runners Club O’ahu Perimeter Relays Awards on 14 February 1977.
I was the woman who introduced the two of us when we made our first public announcement about our around-the-island triathlon. That was at the Waikiki Swim Club Annual Banquet on 23 October 1977.
I was the woman who saved the day in January 1979 after we had cancelled the Second Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon two days in a row for safety reasons. The high winds prevented our support boats from leaving port. We required a boat to safeguard the swimmers. Why were we able to start the 1979 triathlon after all? A swimmer told me to ask for the use of a boat that was in a clubhouse not far from the swim start. I was able to make it happen. The triathlon was on.
In late 1979 I was the woman who made an urgent last-chance proposal to save the 1980 Ironman. John took me up on it. It worked.
John and I were up against a final deadline for the 1980 Triathlon. All had been well until we had learned we would be leaving Hawai’i soon. The 1979 Hawaiian Iron Man had led to publicity on the mainland. We had given the go-ahead to ABC Wide World of Sports to film the 1980 Iron Man. Now what. No one we asked wanted to be Race Director for the Third Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. First the swim and run clubs had said no to the role. Then Hank Grundman at Nautilus had declined the Race Director task. Nautilus Fitness Centers had sponsored the 1978 first-to-finish, Gordon Haller. We had contacted several other likely sponsors. All said no. Then, at the last-minute, a save.
Carin Vanderbush was the incoming President of the Waikiki Swim Club (WSC) for 1980. I was President of the Waikiki Swim Club in 1979. Vanderbush made a promise about the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. She said she would find the Race Day volunteers for Iron Man if we could find a Race Director.
John and I were out of ideas. We had continued to try to find a Race Director, locally and on the mainland. Now we would have to cancel the Iron Man.
I was in the process of removing the triathlon from the 1980 calendar for the Waikiki Swim Club. The WSC Annual Banquet was a day away. Our movers would arrive the next morning. The box of Ironman paperwork would leave town with our household goods.
On 15 October 1979 I asked John to please ask Hank Grundman at Nautilus, a second time, to be Race Director. I wanted John to tell Grundman about the offer of Race Day volunteers from the Waikiki Swim Club. I thought the help from the swimmers might make a difference. It did. Grundman agreed to be the Race Director for The Third Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
On 16 October 1979 I passed out the The Waikiki Swim Club calendar for 1980 at the Swim Banquet. It read … “12 January 1980…Iron Man Triathlon, 3rd Annual (Nautilus)”
It would not have happened without Carin Vanderbush and the Waikiki Swim Club.
We did not know for a few years that the co-owner of Nautilus was a woman, Valerie Silk. Silk took on the role as Race Director for the 1981 Ironman. Silk was the woman who made the two-word “Iron Man” into the one-word “Ironman.” Silk moved the Triathlon to the Big Island of Hawai’i where it had room to grow and volunteers to support it. It was Silk who exported Ironman Triathlon to the Pacific rim countries and then on around the world. It was Silk who introduced prize money in equal amounts for women and men. I believe that every Kona Ironman Triathlon Race Director has been a woman since Valerie Silk took the lead in 1981.
Kristin Collins Galbreaith
Our daughter Kristin Collins was a champion swimmer in Hawai’i. Kristin was the first girl from Hawai’i to be appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy by Hawai’i’s Senator Daniel Inouye. In 1988 Kristin would be the first in our family to finish the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawai’i. Kristin was a Navy Flight Instructor at the time. Kristin the swimmer trained for the bicycle and run legs in an orderly manner over several months. Paula Newby-Fraser would say later that Ironman was very doable if you put in the time.
Kristin did that.
Ironman Triathletes, women and men, showed the rest of us what humans can do. The Queen of Kona, Paula-Newby Fraser, still holds the record for the most World Champion Titles at Kona, Hawai’i. That record is eight firsts plus one second and 2 thirds.
WOMEN I CONNECT TO IRONMAN
When I think of Ironman it is women who come to my mind first. There are many. At the head of the line are Patsy Mink, Flo Squires, Judy Collins, Carin Vanderbush, Valerie Silk, Kristin Collins Galbreaith, Paula Newby-Fraser and the women who have been the Ironman Kona Race Directors since 1981.
The new sport of long distance triathlon was not a man’s idea. It started with a woman, in Hawai’i. I am glad there were Two Founders of Ironman, Judy and John Collins – a woman and a man – Judith MacGregor Collins and John Fletcher Collins. I like to think that the last monarch of Hawai’i, Queen Lili’uokalani, would have liked that.
AEROBIC SPORT IN THE 1970S
Participation in endurance events was very popular in the 1970’s. There were marathons, the lure to qualify for the Boston Marathon, The Western States 100, the Ride and Tie in the Sierra Nevadas, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Century Rides and Double Centuries by the League of American Wheelmen (LAW), the activities of the Bike Centennial that led to the Bicycle Race Across America (RAAM), the Iditarod sled race, the prize offered for the first bicycle-powered airplane to cross the English Channel, the routes published for the Bicentennial Year – 1976 – so that families could cross the U.S. on bicycles or horses, Long Slow Distance (LSD) running, channel swims and other long distance swim events. Back-packing and hiking were very popular too. In the 1970’s the numbers of long-distance hikers increased on the 2000 k,kl..o.loolomile long Appalachian Trail and on the 2600 mile long Pacific Crest Trail.
AMATEUR ATHLETES AND MULTI-SPORT ACTIVITIES
The bicycle “craze
Multi-sport aerobic events had been around since at least the 1900’s, in the U.S. and in France, for two examples. Bicycling had become very popular in the 1880’s. Women and men rode “Safety bicycles” which had two wheels of equal size. Roads were being paved with Macadam. Amateur sport experienced a boost prior to the time of the revival of the Olympics in 1896.
Trois Sports in France
At the turn of the Century there were Trois Sports in France with bicycle, run and swim or boating legs. A bike-run-swim event in Marseilles around 1921 was won by a woman. Lulu Helmut finished first in the out and back swim finish at the Petit Pavilion Swim Club.
Medley was a popular sport. The World Champion at one time was a member of the New York Athletic Club. Louis de Breda Handley completed successive 1/4 mile distances of walking, running, biking, riding, swimming and rowing in 16 Minutes, 27 seconds.
The era of amateur sport
Many sports competitions were one-of-a kind, run by private amateur clubs, schools, community groups, a lifeguard group, a channel swimming organization. If the competition was covered by a newspaper it would be in a local publication. That sports history is hard to find. Some records can probably be found in the files of amateur athletic clubs. There was a break in these sports activities during World War Two.
Before “cross-training” had a name
Most amateur athletes in the 1970’s spent their time on a single sport. The better the athlete the more pressure there was to concentrate on one sport. There was talk about protecting or not harming the muscles of the specialty sport. Recreational athletes often entered sports events that were sanctioned or regulated by a group such as the Amateur Athletic Union in the U.S. It was easy to concentrate on one activity. There was a popular belief that training in more than one sport hurt the performance of elite athletes. Some non-elite amateur athletes were discovering something on their own. Training in more than one sport improved their performance in all. I think a lot of us knew that anecdotally but were keeping it to ourselves. It went against the popular notion about training for a sport.
ABOUT THE TRI IN MODERN TRIATHLON
WHY THREE? THREE WHAT?
THREE ACTIVITIES? THREE LEGS? THREE SECTIONS?
Triathlons now and then
Many know triathlon as a 3 part event with activities in a standard order. It was not that way in the beginning. That is what happened when the sport grew. The competitions became organized and regulated. Triathlon became three activities and three legs. The order became swim-bike-run.
Our first swim-bike-run three leg triathlon
We did not notice when triathlons became swim-bike-run events with only three legs. When we planned our around-the-island triathlon in 1977 we had never heard of a swim-bike-run triathlon. We had reasons to make the order of our very long triathlon a swim-bike-run. We had a reason to limit our triathlon to three legs. Our triathlon was based on three existing long distance events on the island of O’ahu.
A two activity, three section, four leg triathlon in 1973 (from run to swim)
John and I know two who were in a popular triathlon in Clear Lake, California in 1973 and 1974. There were two activities in that triathlon – running and swimming. In 1973 the tri in that triathlon probably referred to the three sections of the event. The three sections were a cross-country run, two swims across Clear Lake, a hill climb – up and down. The swims were before and after the hill part. That was probably a four leg triathlon, run-swim-run-swim.
A three activity, 10-leg triathlon in 1974 (from run to swim)
The San Diego Track Club triathlon in 1974 used the Tri name based on the three activities – running, biking and swimming. That triathlon had 10 legs and ended with a swim. It was a run, a bike ride, and four run-swim segments.
A three activity, four leg triathlon in 1975 (from bike to run)
The Coronado Optimist Club Triathlon in 1975 had four legs and three activities – biking, swimming and running. The Optimist triathlon in 1975 began with a bike leg. Then it was a run, an ocean swim and a run.
A triathlon of only three legs and a run at the end in 1978 (from swim to run)
Our Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon was based on three activities – swimming and biking and running. Our triathlon had only three legs for two reasons. Reason one – we were connecting three annual events. Reason two – each leg of the triathlon was very long. Three legs were enough when each leg was a long distance. We put the swim first for safety reasons. It would be easier to count heads in and out of the water if all the swimmers started at the same time. Also, the course was a long one-way swim. We could not see the finish from the start. The bike and run order in our long event had reasons that do not apply to shorter events. It made safety sense to bicycle in daylight. It would be a rare treat to run a triathlon in the cool of the evening.
A water-bike-run triathlon in the 1980’s (from row/swim to run)
We lived near the Chesapeake Bay after we left Hawai’i. There we planned to enter a triathlon in the winter. That triathlon was a row-bike-run when the river waters were cold. We bought a rowing scull in order to do it. We still have the scull but never did that triathlon on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In the warm months there was a swim-bike-run triathlon on that same triathlon course. Whatever the season the triathlon in Oxford, Maryland had three legs and three activities. The order was water-bike-run.
Enjoying triathlon in other formats
John and I have been disappointed to see that most short and medium and long distance triathlons are now limited to three legs and to a swim-bike-run order. Strict rules makes sense for the regulated events in the Sport. However, non-regulation events are free to use custom formats. I hope that some triathlons still have more than three legs and change the order of the run-bike-swim activities. They are fun. When we planned a long distance triathlon for Hawai’i we had not been in a triathlon with only three legs or in a triathlon that started with a swim .
A swim leg at the end?
I have always thought that medium and short triathlons should end with a swim.
A bike-run-swim was held in Marseille, France around 1921. It ended with a short out-and-back swim at the Petit Pavillon Swim Club. It was won by a woman, Lulu Helmut. Our family was in the first ”modern” triathlon in San Diego, California on 25 September 1974. The Mission Bay Triathlon ended with a swim in the fourth run-swim leg. That felt good.
A bike leg at the end?
John thinks that Olympic distance triathlon would be more interesting if it finished with the bike leg. Presently the swim finish order determines the bike group for the lead triathletes. There is not much change in athlete order on the bike leg. Race positions then change on the run. A swim-run-bike triathlon would see changes in triathlete positions during both of the last two legs
THE INFLUENCE OF A TROPICAL SETTING
John and I were newcomers to regular exercise in 1973. When we moved to Hawai’i in August of 1975 our outside activities became our social life. We were older. By 1978 we were ages 42 and 39. We were not fast but we could last. We and our friends in Honolulu had noticed something. When we trained in more than one sport we improved our times in competitions. I remember my surprise when I dropped my time in a run that I did after a swim meet. Then I did a best time in a swim after a hard bike ride. Those first-hand experiences paralleled my ongoing interest in triathlon. Biking, running and swimming renewed my pleasant memories of a childhood spent outdoors in Hawai’i and California. And this was the 1970’s. We read about people power, Long Slow Distance (LSD) running, home-grown music and more. Tropical ocean waters and trade-winds lured us outside. Our outside activities were our social life. We lived on an island. We wanted to contribute to the community. We had to make our own fun. It all came together in The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
A Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon Origins Story – October 1983 to 2019
As we heard about Ironman history in the Kona years
Two Iron Man Founders in 1979
John and I left Honolulu on the morning of 31 October 1979. We were sad to leave our home. We were glad that we had created a long distance triathlon in Honolulu which would continue after we were gone, at least for one more year.
So far so good
We left Hawai’i as Founders of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. We felt good about that as we looked out the airplane window at places on the Triathlon Course. We saw Aloha Tower – the bike-run transition, the sea at Waikīkī – the swim course, Kapiolani Park by Diamond Head – the start and the finish of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
One Iron Man Founder in 1983
When we returned to Kona, Hawai’i to see the Ironman Triathlon in 1983 we were glad and sad again. We were glad to see the athletes and what Ironman had become under Silk and her staff and the volunteers at Kona. We did not catch on for ten years what was the very sad part of our arrival in Kona. The details of our Iron Man origins story had already been written by someone we had not yet met. And the two Founders of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon had become one.
A look back at Ironman Kona Race Programs, 36 years later
In the Ironman Kona Race Programs of 1982 and 1983 there was only one Founder of Ironman, John Collins. In 1983 we did not know what had been written in 1982. In 1983 we both thought that John was featured at Ironman because he was a 1978 Finisher in Honolulu. We did not learn until August of 2018 that the first story of Ironman origins had been written in the Kona Race Program of 1982. That was one year before Silk invited us to see Ironman on the Big Island in October of 1983. We had no idea that three Kona triathletes of those years would become writers about triathlon history. They had read those stories before we had ever seen a Kona Ironman. They had read those stories before we had met the person behind that history. We did not learn about those stories and about press releases until August of 2018. We had marked some errors in a 1983 Kona Program. We then forgot all about it until 2018.
Trouble on two fronts in Kona
We saw a troubling sight when we landed at the airport at Kailua-Kona in October 1983 John’s home-made Iron Man trophies were on sale by an “original” Iron Man. We paid more attention to that at the time than to another disappointing discovery. The second disappointment would cloud our Ironman experience from then on. There were incorrect details about the origins of the Ironman in the Kona Race Program of 1983.
We marked the errors in the Kona Race Program when we read the origins article. I mentioned the incorrect parts to the person whose name was in the by-line, Carol Hogan. She said nothing. We did not mention the history errors to Valerie Silk. We did not know until 2018 that Silk was the source of the article. John dismissed the mistakes in the Kona Athlete’s Program as unimportant. Also, John did not want me to tell Val about the Ironman trophies that were for sale. And then he told her about the trophies. That puzzled me. Both troubles would still be a part of our lives 36 years later, in 2019.
The phone conversation that was written up as Ironman history
The principle “mistake” in the 1983 article would change our lives. We did not know that for decades. I did not realize that until today, in 2019, while swimming laps in a pool in Panamá. The “mistake” in that article became the heart of the Ironman origins story that was repeated in the media. John had answered questions off the top of his head in an interview by phone. That interview became an article in the Kona Race Program. We had never met the phone interviewer or the person whose name was on the article. We certainly had no opportunity to fact-check what was in the article. We did not look at that article again until August of 2018. We filed it in a box in 1983.
The article said John had made an announcement on the night we made our triathlon decision 6 years before. When I read the article in Kona I marked that sentence as incorrect. John disagreed. I told John that no one had heard any announcements that night other than the relay team awards.
John Collins’ Disbelief
No one had told John that he had not been heard because no one had heard him make an announcement. John did not want to believe that. John reinforced the not-heard announcement when he was asked about it. His answers became legend. He recited the same few sentences in sound bites for many years. When he did that he left out the reasons behind our triathlon decision. That was because John had very few memories of how our triathlon had come about. The ever-present “I” in John’s answers cemented a single-founder version of Ironman history.
1983 – 2019
Looking back at the misinformation
What John may have said in a phone call in 1983 did change our lives. The fall-out from a long-distance conversation, long forgotten, would come between us. A friendly phone call from Hawai’i had become an influential article. We live with the personal after-effects of that article to this day.
The beginning of the One person story
What was said in that article changed John. Ironman became his story to tell and he loved doing it. That Kona Race Program story fueled what we came to call the media myths. It has taken us decades to figure it out.
One-line myths about Ironman
We realize in 2019 that the talk about the announcement-not-heard became the one-sentence summaries of Ironman history. John now says that he always knew that it was he who was the source of the incomplete story. That is a bombshell to me. I just learned that in 2019. We learned for sure in the 1990’s that we could not talk about Ironman and continue to stay married. We kept the Ironman talk to a minimum. So far we have stayed married.
The good memories of our Kona welcome
We did not know about any of that future legend in 1983. We were so impressed by Silk and the Ironman. We enjoyed so much of our trip to Kona. We were very disappointed to see the unauthorized sales of the Ironman trophy and to read the incorrect article in the Kona Program. We did not think either would happen again.
1980’s – 2019
The decades to come
I am glad we did not know that both disappointments would follow us for decades. We told our Two Founders story of Ironman origins year after year. The accurate story rarely made print. A television filming in 1988 was cancelled on the spot when we did not follow a script regarding our Ironman decision. To keep telling our story was like swimming upstream. It was tiring. People made it very clear to us that they did not want to hear it. It was far easier and more polite to go with the flow. Trying to figure out the mystery of the myths created tension between us. Thirty-six years went by.
1990’s – 2019
The sound-bite that trumped the simple facts
John has always urged me to write out our story. He has said that I am the historian. For years we wrote and spoke about our complete story, how the two founders decided to introduce triathlon to Hawai’i. Meanwhile the one-sentence leads about Ironman origins became Ironman legend. “When a military man fueled by beer stood up to offer a challenge to some macho males…a new sport was born…” and so on. That was all wrong.
The New York Times article, a flashback to 1983
Who would guess there would be an article in the New York Times (NYT) in 2019 that would mention those trophy sales in 1983 and make history errors too? The article centered on an athlete from 1978 who led others to sue Ironman owners for years. That athlete was the same person who was selling copies of our original Iron Man trophies at the airport in Kona in 1983.
The New York Times article, a discrepancy about 1989
There was an odd claim in the lawsuit against Silk and Ironman Triathlon by the six athletes from 1978. The claim itself was evidence that the the athlete who led the lawsuit had no knowledge of the history of Ironman. The New York Times writer did not pick up on that discrepant piece of information in his article. Nor , to our knowledge, had Ironman lawyers. The claim was that the 1978 athlete John Collins had no write to pass on the Iron Man Triathlon to Valerie Silk. Well, he/we did not pass the Ironman on to Valerie Silk. John and I did not meet Valerie Silk until 1983. We knew of Hank Grundman. We passed on the Race Director responsibility for Ironman to Grundman. We did not know his marriage status. We did not know the ownership status of Nautilus Fitness Centers.
The impact of the absence of fact-checking then and now
Before the NYT story we had learned to be wary of all interviews. That had begun in 1983. We always hoped the next writer would get it right. We expected that the New York Times would be the paper that would be sure to have the Iron Man history sentences accurate. The story was about athletes, not about us. This was to be a feature story with no deadline pressure. We warned the reporter that Ironman.com and Wikipedia had incorrect accounts of Ironman history. As usual, we asked to read, beforehand, the words that might be references to Ironman history. We were told by the writer there was no need to fact-check. The writer was a Pulitzer Prize winner. We believed him.
The missed opportunity to publish an accurate story
After the NYT story we were very disappointed to see the history errors in the sports feature. The errors in the article were noticed right away by some bicycle colleagues. They did not want to tell me they had read the NYT article. They did not know if John and I had seen it. That was not a good sign. The reactions I received to the NYT sports feature coupled with our reactions make an interesting story about journalism, among other things. We had talked with the sports story author by email before and after the feature came out. He had included some of our direct quotes in his article. Yet he was another who missed the chance to get the details right about Iron Man origins. A simple fact-check of some words in the article would have made the story accurate. The word changes would not have changed the theme of the story one bit.
Our wish for Silk to succeed
The two disappointments central to our 1983 Kona experience had surfaced again in 2019 – the sales of the original Finisher trophy, the incorrect Ironman history. Thank goodness we did not know that in the 1980’s. We did not think of Ironman history then. We had one wish above all in the 1980’s. We wanted Silk to succeed.
Getting to know the 1978 athletes
We saw many of the 1978 athletes in Kona in 1988. John and I invited the Honolulu crowd to a get-together where we could relax and get to know one another. We were finally able to match some names from 1978 to faces we saw in 1988.
Some copyright talk
No athlete mentioned a lawsuit to us in 1988. I do remember some discussion about an athlete who was not there with us. John Dunbar’s name came up because it was he who had copyrighted and sold copies of the Ironman finisher trophy. I shake my head as I think of it again. So much for the honor system of our triathlon. So much for honor among athletes. Think of it. A recipient of the home-made Finisher trophy was now selling replicas of the award that John had designed and presented to the 24 triathlon finishers in 1978 and 1979.
The Tenth Anniversary Ironman
The Honolulu group who were there in Kona seemed in good humor in 1988. They were welcomed as VIP’s. Some of the 1978 Honolulu field had gone on to enter Ironman triathlons in Kona. Silk had asked each 1978 participant to send her a standing photo of themselves. Silk had the photos blown up to full-size and placed on the sidewalk on Ali’i Drive. The life-sized black and white images of each athlete stood by the seawall that overlooked the swim start.
Silk’s attention to detail
Silk had made 1988 a very special occasion in Kona. Silk was known for her thoughtful attention to detail. Silk signed birthday cards and sent them to Ironman Kona Finishers. That is why we were a bit surprised at what we thought was an oversight. Silk did not acknowledge the Founders of the Ironman on the Tenth Anniversary.
Eleven years after 1978
We did not hear anyone mention the 1978 entry forms in 1988. We did not think of 1970’s entry forms until 1989. That is when one of the 1978 athletes wrote a letter to the other Iron Man participants. The writer invited addressees to sign on to a lawsuit against Valerie Silk and the Hawaiian Triathlon Corporation (HTC).
A class-action lawsuit
John Collins received one of the letters since he was one of the 1978 crowd. “You may have a claim…,” the letter said. The letter gave the impression that those who signed our triathlon entry form in 1978 had a right to block the sale of the Ironman 11 years later. John Dunbar wanted the 1978 participants to claim they owned the triathlon. They should be paid for their “performance.” Nothing made sense. Dunbar’s father would be the lawyer for the group. Those who did not sign on to sue would still be included in the lawsuit, as John Does. That really did not seem right.
1989 – 2000+
A legal claim after a decade
At first we thought that our entry form had led to this lawsuit. We felt terrible about that. We were very embarrassed that Valerie Silk would have to pay lawyers because of our 1970’s paperwork. We wondered, why now, 11 years after 1978. Then we realized something that changed how we viewed the lawsuit. The timing fit the description of “greenmail.”
1989 – 2000+
We had heard about “greenmail.” Persons come up with a way to sue an organization at a critical time. Their gamble is that they might be paid to go away. The odds are long. The potential payoff might be great. This lawsuit was filed at a time when Ironman was up for sale. It seemed odd to us that the person who signed the letter was the same athlete who had filed a copyright for John’s Original Work of Art, the Iron Man Trophy. We were dismayed that Dunbar ended up convincing 6 of the 1978 athletes to sue Ironman when it changed hands. That hurt. It still does. Worse, we did not know who among the 15 athletes had decided to sue the Triathlon. That is why the whole group became tarnished in our eyes. That unpleasant saga is a tale in itself.
1982/1983 – 2018/2019
Changes in our Ironman lives since 1983
In 2018 in Kona and in January of 2019 we were able to see what had changed in our Ironman lives since we landed at the airport in Kona in 1983. Not much. Anyone who does research on the internet, including Wikipedia, ironman.com, and now, The New York Times, will find incorrect details about Ironman origins. The two of us are often acknowledged as the two Founders of Ironman now. Yet the incorrect myths persist that began in 1982. Many of the incorrect elements in early Iron Man history date from the Kona Race Program stories of 1982 and 1983 and 1988. The incorrect history details center on what was written in the 1980’s about just one of the two founders of Ironman, John Collins.
What we did after 1989
We tried and tried to get our story out about Ironman origins, especially after the athletes’ lawsuit in 1989. The public relations situations became more difficult each year. Now we know exactly when the solution to the mystery became a possibility.
Liking the lead
The first shoe dropped about the media mystery in June of 2001. An ironmanlive writer sent us a draft of a puff piece about John Collins. We submitted corrections and he made some of them. Then he posted the story with incorrect numbers which he refused to change. He said he would not change the numbers because he liked his lead. He also said it did not matter if it was wrong as long as he could find the incorrect numbers on the internet.
An example of journalism practice in 2001
We were so shocked at the journalistic standards of the ironman writer that we called Val Silk. That was when we received another shock that was a bit of a relief too. Val told us she had written an article in a magazine in the early 1980’s. She wrote it to say that John Collins was the Founder of Ironman. We were on the lookout for that story from that day on. Was that article the source of the media myths?
The end of our search for the article by Val
The second shoe dropped to clear up the media mystery many years later. We made the find in August of 2018. We came across two articles from the early 1980’s. Our 17 year search was over. Our analysis of the Ironman legends could now begin.
An example of journalism practice in 2019
In January of 2019 there was an article in the Sports section of the New York Times about the athletes who first sued the Ironman owners in 1989. We had exchanged emails with the writer. It would have been easy for that writer to get the bits about Ironman history correct. But he didn’t. He risked the errors even though he was not under deadline pressure. His journalistic reasoning was akin to the ironmanlive writer whose justification had shocked us in 2001. Both writers had some facts right. Both implied that what they wrote that was accurate could balance the things that were surely or likely wrong.
I was crushed. What had become of the ideals I had been taught in my first journalism class. Had we been naive since 1983? We had disagreed on what to do about the incorrect story we were up against. We had spent hours and weeks answering questions from interviewers over the years. What we said was not printed. We had no idea why. A separate topic was this. Was there anything that we could have done differently? We are still trying to figure that out.
A Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon Origins Story – 06/2001 to 08/2018
As we tried to solve the mystery of the incorrect Ironman History
LIVING WITH THE FALSE HISTORY
OF IRONMAN ORIGINS
We can only guess how the origins history of Ironman (IM) came out so wrong in the early years. Who would think that an incorrect history would survive 42 years after we decided to introduce triathlon to Hawai’i. We have made a list in 2019 to try to sort it out. Most of the accounts about our early part in triathlon history have never been seen by us. In the early 1980’s our history was first written by someone we had never met.
When Ironman Race Director Valerie Silk wrote a history of Ironman
- Silk wrote the Ironman origins history in a hurry, with no by-line, because she was being credited as the Founder. Silk told us part of that story in 2001, the rest in 2018.
- Silk’s ex-husband had told her that the Triathlon was the idea of John Collins.
- Silk saw only one Contact name on two pieces of paper in ”the Iron Man box.” We had passed on the triathlon box to Hank Grundman at Nautilus Fitness Centers.
- Silk believed every word of the pre and post race publicity in the publications she read.
- Silk credited all entry form statements to John instead of to Judy and John.
- Silk did not know that Judy and John’s names were on the original entry form. John had left that entry at home. He recreated the pages at work, left Judy’s name off and had the marathon distance wrong. Those seemed like minor errors to us at the time. We would have a chance to make it right the next year. It never crossed our minds that someone would write a history of a local recreational event. We had always thought the athletes were the story.
- We assume now that Judy Collins’ name was not in the Iron Man box which Ironman may have used for research.
- Judy and John Collins were never asked outright about the origins of Ironman.
Judy and John Collins were never asked to fact-check lines about Ironman origins before they appeared in an article, a book, a press release or a television script.
- Silk has said she talked to John on the phone in 1983 before we met her. We thought that Silk talked to and featured John because he was one of the 15 who entered our triathlon in 1978.
- Silk was the most trustworthy person in the world of Ironman Triathlon. To this day there are Kona volunteers, triathletes and triathlon scribes of the 1980’s who believe Silk’s history over ours.
When we first spoke up
We had landed at the Kona airport in 1983 to see copies of John’s home-made Finisher trophy on sale. That marred our arrival. We disagreed about how to handle it. A much more serious disappointment came next. We received an Ironman Triathlon Race Program when we checked in. In it was an incorrect account about Ironman origins. That is when we first spoke up to tell our story. We read the article in the Kona Program and marked the errors. Later we mentioned the errors to the person whose name was in the by-line, Carol Hogan. She made no response. We forgot all about that article until we read it again in 2018.
The 1988 spoof of a false history from 1983
In 1988 the Kona Race Program included a spoof story that was based on a lot of statements that had been credited to John in the 1983 program. I remember telling John that the spoof would sound like the real thing to someone who scanned the article. John’s reaction was to compliment the author rather than to mention the errors. What John said to the writer was, “your article is better than most.”
Writers who thought they had the right story
We know more about those articles now. We know that the writer in 1988 and the others meant well. They wrote the answers from John to questions they had asked that were based on the 1983 article. It was all very circular.
An inaccurate article, an inaccurate book
One triathlete who wrote an article in a Kona program in the 1980’s published a book about Ironman too. We had scanned the part of the book that was about Ironman origins in a book store. When we saw the errors and omissions we put the book back on the shelf. Our part of the history was incomplete and not-quite-right, what we came to call NQR. We assume that the parts of the author’s book that were not about us were correct. We were told in 2014 that the book was considered a history of Ironman. That the book was a history was news to us. We had thought it was about individual athletes.
The misunderstanding that we did not know about
That author had interviewed John one year based on what John may have said in a phone interview back in 1983. John must have mentioned to an interviewer in 1983 that he had made an announcement in early 1977. We still do not know who wrote what after that phone conversation. The notes became an article in the 1983 Race Program at Kona.
The “announcement” statement by John had come as a surprise to those of us who were there at a Honolulu awards event in early 1977. None of us had heard anyone make an announcement that night other than 84 awards presentations. I told John that in 1983. He did not want to hear it. We did not learn until 2018 that some time in the early 1980’s an official history of Ironman was written. It was based on some small-talk by John in a phone conversation with someone he had never met.
1980’s – 2014
A typical response to our story
The book author told us in 2014 he would not change what he wrote in the 1980’s if there were a reprint of his book. He said, “I have the tape.” It made no difference to him that the interviewee in 2014 was now better informed than he had been on the spur of the moment in the 1980’s. Getting the Ironman history right was not the goal. And so it went. I was disillusioned.
A colorful story versus an accurate history
John had told me many times that he was the one who was interviewed about Ironman origins because of Ironman “hype.” He said that interviewers wanted to hear something colorful. John told me that an origins story that credited the Ironman to a husband and wife was too dull. Television was looking for something more interesting. John is a storyteller. A military person speaking up to a macho crowd made a good story. We disagreed about that. That was always the end of our conversation on the topic.
1997 – 2002
Public relations quicksand.
During the 5 year period from 1997 until 2002 we seemed to be wallowing in public
relations quicksand more than ever. We could not agree on what to do about it. We said NQR a lot, Not Quite Right. We kept telling our story. Another story was written almost every time.
1997 – 2001
The many sources of misinformation mystery
From 1997 until June of 2001 we were up against a tenacious single founder story wherever we went. No one ever asked us if what they were saying and writing was correct about Ironman origins. No one paid attention when we took the time to make corrections to incorrect statements and print. The misinformation was everywhere.
We wrote our story to dozens of interviewers who asked us pages of questions. The Ironman myths won out every time.
Credit for the “Swim…Bike…Run…Brag…” again.
It may have been in 1998 that we had another personal shock when we were at the Kona airport. It reminded me of our disappointment about the Ironman trophies that were for sale when we had arrived in Kona in 1983. There was a banner on display imprinted with our favorite part of our entry form. Ironman had copyrighted the sentence and credited it only to John. No one had asked us about that. Worse, personally, our grandchildren were photographed in front of that statement that was absent the second name, Judy Collins.
1998 – 1977
Our inducement to sign up
The “Swim…Bike…Run…Brag” line was supposed to be an inducement to sign up for the triathlon. The words had made us smile. That lifetime-license-to-talk-about-it-afterward was a favorite with us and our run friends. We had mentioned those bragging rights on the very night that we had come up with our triathlon idea – on 14 February 1977.
One Founder instead of two?
Only one Founder of Ironman was featured in 1998 even though both of us were included in the invitations. We were treated more like the Founder and his wife. We had been puzzled when the Founders were not mentioned at Kona in 1988. We thought we knew why back then. Valerie Silk was featuring the 15 originals athletes from 1978 on the Tenth Anniversary.
A repeat of 1988
Then it happened again ten years later. Why the emphasis on only one of the two founders? Who was behind that decision? What could we do about it?
No fact-checking by our sponsor
We were on the spot in 1998. We two were doing the Ironman that year. We had a supportive and friendly sponsor. Even our sponsor had put out an incorrect and half-right story about us.
Trying to make corrections on the spot
Why had our sponsor not checked with us first before printing hundreds of NQR souvenir postcards for triathletes? Our hands cramped as we tried to make corrections as we signed the cards for athletes. We were especially embarrassed about the errors because our whole family was in Kona. No one from Ironman had thought to run text or merchandise or publicity decisions by us. Of course we thought the errors must have been made in good faith. They thought they had it right. Why had no one ever checked their facts with us? Once we were there it was too late to change things.
A Nautilus connection to the surprise shirt at Kona.
It was an awkward moment in our lives when John was featured on a shirt that was sold at Kona. That may have been in 1998. The shirt was supposed to be a big surprise for us. We think the person behind the idea was one who had been an employee at Nautilus in the 1970’s. He was a friend. We thought for sure that he knew there were Two Founders of Ironman. We bought shirts for the extended family. I still have mixed emotions about that.
1983 – 2018
The Nautilus misinformation effect
This friend continued to run the Race merchandise store at Kona for many years after Silk had sold the Ironman. We know now what was going on then in Kona, Hawai’i. What Grundman and Silk at Nautilus had believed about the history of Ironman was believed by volunteers and athletes in Kona. It was believed by Gordon Haller who had been sponsored by Nautilus and by the Nautilus employees of those years. That incorrect belief still colors our experience at Kona. That has kept us from traveling to Kona more often. I regret that. Our son enters the Ironman in Kona every five years, the Ironman Anniversary years. We travel to Kona then to cheer him on.
1997 – 2002
Our loss of faith in publications
We lost faith in publications that we had admired and read. The magazine of my former employer printed the Ironman one-liner legend instead of contacting us to verify it. We had the opportunity to travel to Ironman triathlons in New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia in those four years. It was a world that insisted on a single founder of Ironman no matter what we said.
1997 – 1998, 1999+
A repeat in Panamá of the Ironman single founder myth
I fell in love with Caribbean Panamá in 1996. We had anchored our sailboat in Parque Nacional Portobelo on the the Atlantic side of the country. I wanted to start a triathlon there. It would also help me to train for Kona. John became interested in my triathlon plan and in training for Kona. We made our triathlon happen on 6 June 1998. In 1999 we arranged airfare for the U. S. triathlete press to enter our event and to write about it. Their stories credited the Portobelo Triathlon idea to John Collins alone. This brand new myth was a repeat of the Ironman legend. When I saw the articles I shook my head in disbelief. Then I cried. What in the world was going on in the world of triathlon? We had a tough 5 years with the press from 1997 to 2002.
Onstage as Ironman Co-Founders at Ironman New Zealand
In March of 2001 there was a special occasion that stays in my memory. We were asked to go on stage together to tell our story of the origins of Iron Man. It was at the Awards ceremony for Ironman New Zealand. That was a first for us. It was the first time that the two of us were asked to tell our founders story to an Ironman audience. What we said then was much the same as our joint presentation in 2014 at the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame meeting in Chicago. We recall a warm and friendly reception when we told our Founders story in Taupo. We received a cool reception and a critical review when we told the same story in Chicago.
Happy to write about Ironman New Zealand
Later we were asked to write a Forward to an Ironman New Zealand publication when it was the 20th Anniversary of their triathlon. I was happy to put in a lot of time doing the research for that story. I contacted Valerie Silk. I invoked the Polynesian connection, the Maoris and the Hawaiians, the common vocabulary and the common topography of the Pacific islands. We submitted the essay under both our names.
2018 – 2005
Unhappy to be deleted as the author of the Ironman New Zealand essay
Not long ago ironman.com reposted the essay we had submitted to Ironman New Zealand in 2005. Someone had decided to credit the anniversary essay to John Collins alone, not to Judy Collins, not to Judy and John Collins. Why had that happened? No one had asked us about that before Ironman posted the essay. That happened many months ago. I threw up my hands. Why do we bother?
Silk’s revelation in June 2001.
Val Silk told us in June of 2001 that it was she who had written the story that John was the Founder of Iron Man. Her ex-husband had told her that. Silk seemed surprised to hear there were Two Founders of Ironman. We were very surprised that it came as news to her. We were also relieved to hear about her misunderstanding. That explained a lot. Silk had become very quiet after I had asked her a question, “Do you have any idea who first wrote the story that John was the Founder of Iron Man? After a pause, Val had said it was she who first wrote that story.
Our 1970’s research in 2002.
We opened our Honolulu boxes from the 1970’s to research the origins of Iron Man. We did that to prepare for Ironman Revisited, the fund-raiser for the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation. We were back in Honolulu in August of 2002 and 2003 for the reenactment of The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. We covered every mile of our original course around the island in each of those years. Our Iron Man memories from the 1970’s began to surface then. What we learned from our research did not match the public story.
“John and Judy’s Baby Grows Up.”
That was the photo caption on the first page of West Hawai’i Today on the 25th Anniversary of Ironman. It was a great honor for us to appear onstage at Kona in 2003. We were there with the Ironman Champions from the first 25 years and some athletes from 1978.
Our story of 18 February 1978 as told in the Kona Race Program of 2008
Five years later we were in Kona again. This time our two voices were in a story in the Kona Race Program with an introduction by Bob Babbitt. The two of us recalled the around the island of O’ahu Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon of 18 February 1978. The West Hawai’i Today caption and the 2008 Kona Race Program account had Ironman origins history correct. Things were looking up.
A prompt correction to misinformation on the ironman website in 2009.
The pendulum of ironman history had swung back to inaccurate one year later. We were told at a triathlon in Coronado, California that that Ironman arose from a discussion by Navy Seals who were in the Coronado Optimist Club Triathlon in 1975. We raised our hands to say that statement was not correct. We two, Judy and John Collins, were the Founders of Ironman. The announcer said he read that information on the ironman website. That was so off-track that we checked the website, contacted ironman.com and submitted a correction. Ironman printed it promptly.
Our decision to tell our Ironman and triathlon story
We decided to get our full story in print all in one place. The false story that was told at the Optimist Triathlon was yet another myth about Ironman. We had been writing our founders story in pieces for years. We had been relying on writers to get it right when we gave them the facts. That had not worked. The Ironman organization, World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), was growing very fast. They were not a research source for sports history. They were a sports organization that was busy with events every week of the year.
Our attempts to write our Founders story
John did some research about websites and we set one up. It was clunky and hard to change. There was some date errors on it which we didn’t want people to see. One radio interviewer who knew little of sport said the website was useless to him. We realized we had geared it to people who had a basic knowledge of triathlon and Ironman triathlon. The radio interviewer wanted to know what triathlon was, why we came up with the idea, how old we were, whether we were lifelong athletes then and now and so on. Our website was more about calendar dates and numbers and newspaper clippings. We let the website lapse.
We started a book. We directed it to our grandchildren. We disagreed on how we should handle the media myths. John continued to reinforce the myths, both inadvertently and deliberately. We were still puzzled about the sources of the public versions of Ironman origins. We called those erroneous accounts the media story.
Our telling of our Founders story
Our Ironman origins story – Two Founders and the details of our decision
Our story and the media story were not the same. The incorrect media story had two incorrect parts – the single founder error and an absence of details that described how it all happened in 1977. Our story – the real story – was that there were two Founders of Iron Man and our decision to do it was planned and concluded in short order one night. There was no announcement by us on our decision night. Our first public announcement was made together 8 months later. The real story includes a list of details that summed up our decision. John did not recall the details. Now we both know the details of our 2 1/2 year history of The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. Writing our story about that should be easy. I have written the story many times in the Anniversary years of Ironman.
Standing behind our story
I have been reluctant to post the details of our Ironman story on our website. That was because John’s words about Ironman continued to contradict it. Until 2018. I have now written another version of what we did on O’ahu in the 1970’s. I want to follow it with what happened to us next. The Ironman sequel to our Honolulu story still affects our lives. We lived for decades with a mystery that befuddled us. We could not solve it. Everywhere we were there was an incorrect Ironman origins story. That began after we left Hawai’i. We did not solve that mystery until August of 2018.
1982 – 1983
The Ironman origins story
that was written by a stranger
1982 – 2018
Living with that story while not knowing what it was
John’s reaction to the story written by a stranger
John looked at Ironman history anew in August of 2018. We had found two 1980’s articles that were the basis of the Ironman media myths that we have lived with for years. John’s reaction to reading the misleading origins stories was to write an essay, “Of Myths and Men.” In the last line John credited the Ironman idea to me.
My reaction to the story written by a stranger
I had a reaction to those two articles too. Ironman’s success had unexpected personal consequences for me.
- An incorrect story about Ironman that was written by a stranger in the early 1980’s had kept writers from believing our origins story about Ironman. I had lost my respect for many publications. Their writers had missed the chance to write an accurate story. I was sad that I had become disappointed in the Journalism profession.
- That wrong Ironman history was very hard on our marriage. I had been cut out of our Ironman origins story. When I was cut out of the story the details of how we had decided on our triathlon were left out too. I had urged John to keep that in mind when he spoke about Ironman. I am sad that I am disappointed in my marriage partner. His extemporaneous speaking and charm reinforced the part of the media legend that had cut me out of our story. Other than that he is a great life companion. We have always liked the same things.
An “Ironman Founder” article, Valerie Silk and IM finisher John Collins
We did not know in 1983 that a version of an Ironman origins story had been written one year before we first saw an Ironman Triathlon at Kona. We had not met the author. We spent the next 36 years wondering why there were so many stories about Ironman origins that had the facts wrong. We thought that Valerie Silk asked John to speak onstage at Kona because he was entertaining and he had been in the 1978 Iron Man. In 2001 Val told us that she had written a story in 1982 to say that John was the Founder of Ironman. That came as a shock to both of us. We have been looking for that story ever since 2001. We had no idea what Silk had said about the origins of Ironman. Silk told us she could not remember the details.
Three clueless people who meant well
It had never crossed our minds that Valerie Silk did not know that the two of us were the Founders of Ironman. Silk said she wrote the story because people were writing that she was the Founder. We finally found that story and another one in 2018. In one story were some misleading statements that John may have said. Notes may have been made following a phone call to John in 1983. One of my reactions to that find surprised me. It was about the profession of journalism. Writers had kept that incorrect story alive for decades even when we told them that it was not true. My second reaction was profound disappointment. John’s own words must have reinforced the misleading history from the very beginning.
An incorrect media story
We both knew that the media story was wrong. We had wondered why John was asked the same few questions again and again. He had come up with some answers to interviewers that made no sense to me. No one wanted to hear what I had to say about Ironman origins, including John. John continued to sum up the misinformation as media hype, exaggeration. We did not know where the errors were coming from. We did not know that we were inadvertently reinforcing it. We had no idea it had come from a single source which seemed to quote John directly. John told me it had to do with a sport that grew up with broadcasts on television. John told me it was too late to fight it.
Telling our triathlon history story
John wanted me to write our story because he is not interested in reading the research details. Also he had few memories of our decision evening because the triathlon was not his idea. John is more interested in airplanes than sport. I find it interesting to research and write about our part in triathlon history, the years from 1973 to 1980. I am interested in the long-established roots of triathlon. I am interested in all the good things that have happened because of Ironman. I like triathlon and triathletes.
Up against the public version of our triathlon history story
I find it depressing to review the years of Ironman after 1982. That is because of what we did not know then. We did not know that our part of Ironman history had been written before we had ever discussed our Ironman history with each other. Worse, it had been written by someone we had never met. We did not learn of that history until 2018. The incorrect story about early Ironman that was in print in 1983 has been the dominant Ironman origins story ever since. Lines in television broadcasts and in the press perpetuated the incorrect Ironman story. Like it or not we had to learn to live with it if we wanted to stay married.
Our entry in a 10-leg event: a run, a bike and 4 run-swims
The total distances were a little less and a little more than five miles of running and bicycling and about 500 years of swimming. It was a Wednesday night outing in Mission Bay, San Diego. Our personal first chapter of Ironman history began on 25 September 1974 in San Diego, California. Our family of four entered a ten-leg activity that involved running, biking and swimming. The organizers called it a “triathlon.” We had fun. That special event launched the modern history of the sport. I have been interested in run-bike-swim events ever since.
The absence of fact-checking in an anniversary story
Long before Ironman John and I were interested in accuracy in journalism. We liked to say, “We believe everything we read unless it is on a topic we know about first-hand.” Now we have experienced press inaccuracy first-hand. How in the world could so many stories be wrong in so many publications for so many years. We know that anniversary stories like ours are “Evergreen.” They are never written from scratch. They are recycled and updated with a fresh sentence from year to year.
When the basic Anniversary story is wrong
Updates to a story make sense. But what if the basic story is incorrect? We are a sample case of how a history written by third persons will trump a first-person account decade after decade. We have read incorrect Ironman history lines in the Smithsonian Magazine and in the New York Times, in an article written by a Pulitzer Prize writer. We have been willing to fact-check Iron Man origins history accounts about us since 1979. We have rarely been permitted to do it.
Two people, two stories
We know this. We came up with Iron Man from two different directions. Together we made a decision one particular night. John had very few memories of the evening. I had many more memories of the details of that night than John did. Each of us thought we would tell the same story. That was naive. Neither of us would remember the full picture for many years, until we had read through our files and talked about it.
Facts that we learned later
For example, neither of us would recall a minor fact. The decision night was Valentine’s Day. We found that information when we opened up our 1970’s boxes in 2002. John has never wanted to read the Ironman papers from the 1970’s or after that. That remains a sore point between us. People ask John the questions. John looks to me for the answers. John has never been interested in the details. I am disinclined to correct John in public. No one likes to be told his facts are wrong. Plus I was taught to say, “We.” John answers with, “I…” unless he thinks about it. “I” won.
About telling our Iron Man story
after Ironman became a popular event
Working to make Iron Man happen
On O’ahu we had no reason to discuss with each other how our triathlon had come about. We were too busy making it happen. We did not talk about our triathlon decision from the night it happened in 1977 until we left Honolulu over 2 1/2 years later.
Not talking about Ironman after we left Hawai’i
To this day we rarely discuss the Iron Man with one another. In the beginning it was because the Iron Man and our habits of daily exercise were left behind when we left the Islands. We were occupied full-time doing interesting new things in other places. Between the two of us we had some very interesting jobs, a stint in law school, some community commitments, interesting travel adventures. We lived on our cruising sailboat from 1987 to 2007. We still have the boat in Panamá. We divide our time each year between Panamá and California.
Our decision not to talk about Ironman after visiting Kona
We looked forward to seeing the Ironman in Kona in 1983. We landed at the airport to see the original Ironman trophies advertised for sale by an “Original” Iron Man. We soon read an incorrect Ironman origins article in the Kona Athlete Program. From that time on there was tension between us regarding Ironman topics. We solved it by trying not to discuss Ironman unless we were physically in Hawai’i. Ironman has been a touchy topic for me to discuss with John since 1983.
Two Ironman fans who did not follow the sport
Along the way our Ironman story was written by others. We did not know that. We were out of touch as the sport continued to grow. We had no VCR for our television and then no television. We subscribed to no triathlon publications, bought no books on the sport. When Valerie Silk invited us to Kona in the 1980’s and to Ironman Canada in 2987 we had some memorable looks at the sport. That was about it.
When Silk featured only one Founder at Kona
We noticed that Valerie Silk always concentrated on John in Kona. That puzzled us. We came up with several reasons why. John had been a finisher in 1978 when I had been a last-minute Did Not Start. John and Silk looked like brother and sister. Silk’s brother had been in the military and Silk seemed to like military men. Silk saw that John was a born storyteller who enjoyed being behind a microphone.
Dealing with our scant knowledge of the sport as it grew
The sports of Ironman and triathlon grew while we were doing other things. Between the years 1997 and 2001 we were up against an ironman history that made no sense to us. We were invited to a number of Ironman events and looked forward to them. We started another triathlon in Panamá. John really enjoyed being interviewed in person and by phone wherever we were. We were both puzzled by the questions he was asked. People put words in his mouth. They clearly did not like it if he said something they did not expect. I was the person who wrote the written responses to interviewers. We wondered why our written responses were almost always ignored. We were both puzzled by the publicity at Ironman triathlons and by the publicity about our triathlon in Portobelo Panamá. Discussion of triathlons and incorrect press accounts became sore topics between us. We kept the peace by not talking about triathlon matters.
Our spontaneous answers to questions
Until 2002, any interview responses from us were spontaneous. Our files from Honolulu were still packed up in cardboard boxes. Our answers to Ironman questions before 2002 were best guesses, personal hearsay. They were not ever verified with each other. John gave most of the answers. No one ever asked me and we did not know why. A few times I sat behind a table at a Press briefing with my notes. All the questions went to John. John had few facts. John made oral typos. We may have been asked questions about our Ironman decision in a conversation. The answers that John gave were often about the 1970’s in general, not about our decision to put on a triathlon. We were not ever thinking sports history when we answered questions. We were thinking that we were being asked for our personal views about our triathlon.
No opportunity to fact-check
We were rarely able to fact-check what an interviewer had written. Three who allowed it were not sports writers. In fact they were from a different longitude. One was a BBC radio broadcaster, another a German travel blogger, the third a writer for a magazine in Spain. We will always have great respect for all three writers. We knew the given reasons that writers did not allow fact-checking by the interviewee. The writers were first taught and then told that the subjects of an article were not to see the text of the writer. It had to do with undue influence and more. And writers were often under deadline. We have lived for decades with the false information consequences of that writing policy. Many errors were published that would have been avoided with a fact-check. A correct story about Ironman in the 1980’s would have made a big difference in the public record. It would have made a huge difference in our personal lives.
Thank you to three who let us see
Three who allowed us to fact-check their story were not sports writers. In fact they were from a different longitude. One was a BBC radio broadcaster, another a German travel blogger, the third a writer for a magazine in Spain. We will always have great respect for all three writers. In a few cases there were writers who got facts right one time and not so the next. We have read very few articles about Ironman history because we were not in the triathlon community.
Two writers who raised our hopes
We remember two friendly sports writers who were not opposed to a fact-check by us. We had hope that their stories would be accurate. Both stories ended up including false information about triathlon.
One writer told us it did not matter if the numbers in his 2001 story were incorrect as long as he could find those numbers on the internet. The lead in his story was incorrect but he did not want to change it. He said he liked his lead.
The second writer said there was no need to fact-check because we had been quoted directly. Those direct quotes in his 2019) story were right. That writer’s history mistakes were in several parts of the story. There were also errors in the lead paragraphs of the story.
Correcting the errors in those two stories would not have changed the theme of either story one bit. One was a writer for the ironman website. The other was a writer for the New York Times.
The whole truth
We are the Two Founders of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. We are two people with two backgrounds, two views of triathlon, two different sets of memories. For many years we had the naive idea that each of us had the same story to tell. We know now why that is not so. We came upon our long distance triathlon decision from two directions. Our Iron Man happened and continued because it was a two-person project. Our part of Iron Man began on 14 February 1977 and ended on 15 October 1979.
A history of a brand new sport?
It never occurred to us that anyone would be interested in the early history of a new recreational sport. We did not think to ask who started the Honolulu Marathon or the Waikiki Roughwater Swim for many, many years. We associated the Honolulu Marathon with Dr. Jack Scaff because he ran the Marathon Clinic in Honolulu. In the 2000’s we learned that it was Jim Cotton who organized the first Waikiki Roughwater Swim. We were surprised then to learn that those first Waikiki swimmers then formed the Waikiki Swim Club. We were members of the Waikiki Swim Club and the Honolulu Marathon Clinic. Our interest was in their current events. We did not think about the history of those events. We assumed it was the same with triathlon.
A story about us written by a stranger?
It never crossed our minds that someone we did not know would research and write a history about our recreational event. It never occurred to us that a stranger would write our story without letting us see in advance what was said.
We certainly did not know that a history about Ironman that we knew nothing about would become press releases. We did not find out about the writing of the history and the press releases until August of 2018. How different our lives would be now if we had been able to fact-check what Ironman was saying about the origins of Ironman in the 1980’s, in the 1990’s, in 2018. And now. We thought that the years of incorrect stories had been created by many different people.
Not wishing to complain to Valerie Silk
We never complained about the incorrect stories to the person we trusted above all in triathlon, Valerie Silk. Val married a swim friend of ours. John was a groomsman in Val’s wedding. Val was a generous friend to our children and their families. Val and I bicycled and ran together when Val lived nearby us in California. We had no idea that Val did not know that there were two Founders of Iron Man. We learned that in 2001.
The trustworthy single source of Ironman origins history
It never occurred to us that there was a single source of misinformation about us. We certainly did not know that some of the misinformation from the single source had come from talking to John.
The story-teller’s oft-repeated tale
John continued to mention an announcement-not-heard that became Ironman legend. He recited it when he was asked. It was a good line and he liked saying it. I continued to be puzzled and silent when he did so. I hadn’t figured out why John’s misleading performances bothered me so much. Now I know that John had confused things.
Two dates – the decision and the announcement
We made our triathlon decision on 14 February 1977. We were seated at a table with friends. We sealed the triathlon plan when we said to each other and two friends, “If you do it, I’ll do it.” We made the public announcement about our triathlon on 23 October at the annual banquet of the Waikiki Swim Club. We stood together behind the lectern that night. John’s sound-bite had made it sound like the decision and the public announcement had happened at the same time. Those two events that were months apart became the one media script about Ironman.
A single source of a media script
We had no idea that Ironman misinformation had been written by a single source. We had no idea that versions of an incorrect story were then repeated by many different people all around the globe. Almost every print, radio and television interviewer knew the media script. We did not know that there was a script out there about the origins of Ironman. We did not know why John was the only one who was questioned about that script. John cemented the myth of the script. He came up with a sound-bite that he liked to repeat. We certainly had no idea where the script had begun. We did not know until 2018 that our part in triathlon history had been written by someone we had later come to know as a friend.
Still writing in the dark in 2017
Two years ago a sports history academic contacted us. He was a retired professional athlete at Kona. He was a good writer. He asked us to tell him what we thought was wrong with the public version of early Ironman history. The public version of Ironman history is what we have called the media myths. We wrote many emails back and forth about that. We were never able to give him concise answers about the sources or the basic content of the Ironman myths.
CONTINUING THE SEARCH FOR ANSWERS IN 2018
We continued to look for the source of the errors about Ironman history. We continued our research to prepare for the Fortieth Anniversary of Ironman. We had no clue that the popular but incorrect history of Ironman was based on a single source. Now we can give those answers. We came upon articles in two Kona Triathlon Programs in August of 2018. It took us that long to solve the mystery of what had gone wrong in the early 1980’s.
Early 2018 – From optimism to pessimism
Optimism about the IM Anniversary year
A lot was going on at the start of 2018. We looked forward to being in Kona with both of our children and their spouses. Michael would be doing the Ironman again. He trains to do the Ironman every five years. We go to Kona then to cheer him on. I am not sure now What Happened When in 2018. Emails and calendars can pinpoint this and that. That doesn’t matter now. My principal memory is that one morning, suddenly, everything went downhill. For the rest of the year.
“A Tsunami of Misinformation”
Awash in misinformation, new and old
One morning in early 2018 I read something that startled me. The detached large screen for my computer was awash in old photos and old incorrect ironman origins information. The file had just popped up. I did not know then how it had happened. I must have typed words that were a link to the Ironman website.
On the screen we saw misinformation from years past coupled with photos from Ironman files. I was shocked and disappointed to see the incorrect sentences cover my screen. Oh, no!
I labelled the experience, “A Tsunami of Misinformation.” I sent an email to ironman.com with that Subject. That was not a diplomatic move. John and I had always been very polite when we communicated with Ironman. In that email my emotions spoke and I Sent. I asked ironman.com to please run things by us so we could fact-check what they planned to post. That did not happen. We continued to be left out of the loop.
Looking forward to February
A 40TH ANNIVERSARY INTERVIEW ON 18 FEBRUARY 1978…A local event was on our calendar on 18 February in San Diego, 40 years after 18 Feb 1978, the big day in Honolulu. Bob Babbitt was doing a live video that was streaming to an internet audience. He was interviewing the first-to-finish The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon in 1978, Gordon Haller. I am so glad we were there. I realized that the people who were participants in an event are not experts on the history of the event. That includes the 1978 finishers of Ironman. I can cite five examples that I know about first-hand: Haller, Collins, Knoll, Hendrickson and John Dunbar. That personal insight came to me as we heard Gordon Haller being interviewed by Bob Babbitt.
Gordon Haller’s knowledge of Ironman origins
The part that caught my attention the interview was something that happened in 1979, not 1978. Was the year clear in the video? Had Haller mixed up the two years that he did the Waikiki Roughwater Swim course in the Iron Man? I don’t know. I was confused when Haller said it and I remain confused now. And we were there! In Honolulu, and in San Diego.
Haller’s Swim memory
John and I sat next to Haller’s wife. Haller was a good interview. Babbitt asked him about his training logs and more. Then Haller came out with a couple of things that caught my attention. He talked about his interaction with the lifeguard boat in the swim. I had been one of the two lifeguards in the boat. Haller went for a laugh. It was a good line. I wanted to mention how it looked from the safety end. But of course I couldn’t. This was live, not a Q and A, except by Babbitt.
Gordon Haller’s confusing comments about IM history
Then Haller said something that was outright incorrect. That really puzzled me. Months later, in August, I saw that same misinformation in the 1982 Kona Race Program, in the anonymous article that Val Silk had mentioned to us in 2001. In the Haller video it had sounded like the 1979 Iron Man was run by Nautilus…Again, the hazards of a live video. Some misleading statements were made in the live video that might be taken literally by researchers in a future audience…The interview went on and on. There had been technical delays at the start. The whole experience set me to thinking again about the years of inaccurate history about Iron Man on O’ahu.
The 1978 participants – athletes, yes; historians, no
My conclusion: Those who participated in the Iron Man on O’ahu likely know the least of all about the history of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. What they now include in the conversation about their experience are the misleading details they learned later from the media. That includes John.
Six years later, the IM Co-Founders’ first conversation about IM “history”
John Collins is a good example of a 1978 finisher who was not clear about the Ironman origins history. He is an Ironman Co-Founder-athlete who came up with a misleading line about the history of our long-distance triathlon. We never discussed our triathlon decision with any of the entrants other than one in the first year and one in the second year . They were Dan Hendrickson in 1978 and Michael Collins in 1979. Goodness, we had never discussed our long distance triathlon reasoning with each other until 1983. That was in Kona. It was a short initial conversation and it did not go well.
Not known by Nautilus
Plus, there are particular reasons that Haller would not be a reliable source of Iron Man history. He was sponsored by Nautilus Fitness Centers. What he knew came from them and we did not know them. Nautilus knew nothing about how or why or when we had decided to put on a long distance triathlon on O’ahu. John had some phone conversations with someone at Nautilus in 1979 regarding using their teeshirt blanks and more. And, lucky for us and for Ironman, Hank Grundman of Nautilus became the Race Director for the Third Annual Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon that was held in January 1980.
The limited knowledge of entrants in any event
But, most of all, Haller knew as little about the background of Iron Man as we did about most of the events we have ever entered. We might learn something from the entry form but our principal acts were to sign the form, pay the entry fee and do the event.
The lesson learned from the live Haller video
I learned and confirmed a history lesson on 18 February 2018 in San Diego. What the Honolulu participants know about the history of Ironman is what they later read in the media and the media had it wrong. It was based on the misinformation that was first generated – in good faith – by the co-owner of Nautilus. It was then reinforced, unwittingly, and misleadingly, by John. We did not know about Nautilus and we did not meet the co-owner of Nautilus until 1983.
Tom Knoll’s inaccurate lines about IM history
Haller’s interview was an eye-opener to me. It reminded me of the book that had been written by another 1978 finisher, Tom Knoll. We had scanned Knoll’s text in Kona one year before it went to press. The parts about us were plumb wrong. We had offered to write a Forward to offset his factual errors. He adamantly refused. His research source was the media, an incorrect account. He did not know the who, what, where, why and how of our actual decision to put on the triathlon. He had been a help to me. He had answered a question I had asked. In 1977. We were members of the same running club that put on many events on the island. I asked him how we should communicate our triathlon plans to the Police Department of the City and County of Honolulu. He told me. We did it. That was that.
Dan Hendrickson’s reinforcement of the Ironman legend
Haller’s interview reminded me of the statement of another 1978 finisher. Dan Hendrickson was one of the friends who were sitting with us during our decision conversation. Six years after our triathlon conversation John had mentioned a detail about that evening that was news to me. John kept saying it again and again until the media made it the history of Ironman.
John Collins and the misleading line that became legend
John Collins is an Ironman Co-Founder-athlete who came up with a misleading line about the history of our long-distance triathlon. John had returned to our table during a very noisy intermission to speak in my ear. He said he had made an announcement. I knew that no one could have heard him. I made no comment. There was still too much noise to speak. John did not mention that announcement to me again until six years later. I reminded him of the hearing conditions of that break in that evening program back in 1977. None of us who were there could have a conversation during the bedlam of that intermission. Unless… we leaned close to each other and spoke head-to-head. There was no microphone on to address a group. By the way, John has no memory at all of noise during the intermission that night. He had walked away and come back. I had watched him as he talked and gestured to someone on his walk down the path back to our table.
Dan Hendrickson’s silence “…because it had become Ironman legend”
In 2008 or so I asked Dan if he had heard John make an announcement. Dan said no. I asked Dan why he had not mentioned before that he had not heard any announcement during the intermission. Back in 1977. The short version of his answer was this. I went along with what John said about an announcement because “…it had become Ironman legend.” Plus, John kept saying it. It would have been so helpful to me if Dan had spoken up before that. I had interviewed athletes for years about hearing any announcement other than Relay Awardee names on the night of our decision. All said the same. They heard no announcements during the intermission. None of us had.
A trap for historians
After the Haller interview on 18 February 1978, I wondered. Do historians know this? People who were there – in an event – might be the least qualified to write or tell a history of the event. Be it an athletic event, a war, a fire, a flood. They are the experts on their own participation. Period. I might add, we did not become experts about our own history of Iron Man until we did research in our own files from the 1970’s. That did not happen until 2002. In Honolulu we were too busy making Iron Man happen to sum up how we had come up with the idea. And, until we talked about it with each other, each of us would have summed it up differently. It is our combined story that tells the tale.
OUR PERSPECTIVE IN 2019
STILL TRYING TO SORT IT OUT
Two years ago I probably said these four things to the triathlete academic writer:
(1) We left Honolulu on 31 October 1979 as the two Founders of Iron Man.
(2) When we first visited Kona in 1983 the focus was on John, not on Judy and John. We thought that was because John was a Finisher in 1978 and Judy was a last-minute DNS (Did Not Start). The public details about Ironman origins were wrong. We got used to that. We thought it was because Ironman was “a media event.”
(3) We did not catch on until 1998 that in Kona there was only one Founder of Ironman. The details about Ironman origins continued to be wrong, no matter what we said. Writers and relatives did not want to hear a story that was different from what they already believed. We came across as rude if we veered from the popular account. We were always caught off guard when people were rude to us. It became easy for us to avoid it all by just staying away.
(4) We did not learn the source of the one Founder rumor until we asked Valerie Silk about it in 2001.
Val told us she wrote the story that John was the Founder of Ironman. Silk said she was getting the credit as the Founder in the early 1980’s. She wrote a story to set the record straight. She put the story in a publication. She could not remember what publication or what year. She had given away all her papers years before. She said that her husband had told her that John was the Founder of Ironman. That is what she wrote. We had been on the lookout for that story by Silk since 2001. We had not found it in 2017.
(5) I also told the triathlete academic about an unsettling legal experience in the late 1980’s. A 1978 athlete had put together a lawsuit against Valerie Silk and Ironman. The attorney asked me to make a list of everything that our family had done to put on the first two Iron Man Triathlons. I listed what I did, what John did, what Kristin did, what Michael did. The lawyer then wrote up a list that credited all our ideas and contributions to John and only John. He said he had to do that to strengthen Ironman’s position. The lawsuit had named only John. Therefore the lawyer would credit all the triathlon contributions to John instead of to John and Judy and Kristin and Michael Collins. The word the lawyer used was “a legal fiction.”
Post Script: John saw the list. He thought it looked right to him. John’s response rang alarm bells in my head. What had happened to my spouse, the Co-Founder of Iron Man? Had John given in to all the attention? Had he come to believe that our long distance triathlon was all his doing? Surely that could not be.
IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT WE LEARNED IN 2018
We were still in the dark in 2017 when the triathlete/writer had asked us questions about the erroneous public version of Ironman history. It was still a mystery to us. We would not see the light until August of 2018 when we found two “history” articles in the Kona Race Programs of 1982 and 1983. Those were what Valerie had mentioned to us in 2001. Silk had forgotten the where or when of the history article. She could only remember the why. We had been on the lookout for what she had written ever since. We were so happy to find them at last.
Making sense of it
In our summary of our big finds in 2018 we include some events that we wrote about earlier. We mention them again here to complete the big picture. What we know now. I have been trying to make sense of our IM history experience since 1983.
Telling Val of our find
We saw details in both Kona Program stories that we had heard again and again over many years. We were happy to email the news of our find to Val Silk. That is when Silk told us more.
Silk said she had written all the stories and all the press releases in the early years. Press releases? We had never thought of Ironman press releases. What did they say?
Silk told us she had researched Ironman history before we ever met her. Then she wrote it. She said that Judy Collins was never in it. She said we had never told her the history was wrong. She said we went along with it when we were in Kona. Everything that Silk said was news to us. There was a history of Ironman? What and when was that? Why were we not asked to contribute to that history?
Research based on hearsay, not confirmed
Silk told us that her evidence showed that John was the Founder because he was mentioned as a “spokesman” in several articles she had read. Silk said my name was mentioned only once in the local triathlon coverage in a newspaper. Silk and Ironman made errors later, too. No one asked us about the papers from our Ironman years. We knew that my name had been left off the entry form when John had rewritten the entry form at work. Both of us had written the original entry form at home. John had recreated the entry form at work because he had left the original at home. My name was not on it and the marathon distance was incorrect, too. We had agreed that John would sign the Coast Guard Marine Parade permit for the swim course and turn it in himself. John’s office at the Shipyard was closer to the Coast Guard Office than my office at the University of Hawai’i. Those papers were probably in the box that we had passed on to Hank Grundman at Nautilus.
The unknown sources of IM research
We do not know what was in the box and out there in the public that may have influenced Silk. Did Silk contact us to state her history research purpose and to verify her conclusion? Did Silk interview John by phone and pass on her notes to someone else who would write an article for the Kona Race Magazine? “Interested Founders would like to know.”
No offense meant
We had called incorrect facts about the origins of Ironman the Ironman media myths. We were not intending to offend reporters. By media myths we meant public stories that did not match our experience. One media myth was about a single Founder of Ironman. The others had to do with incorrect statements and with the absence of details about the origins of our triathlon plan. We saw in 2018 that the roots of those incorrect details were in the two stories in the Ironman programs of 1982 and 1983.
FIGURING IT OUT, AT LAST
Valerie Silk’s name was not on either of the stories in the Ironman programs. The 1982 account was anonymous. The 1983 account had another name as author. We had mentioned the errors in the 1983 article to the name in the by-line, Carol Hogan. We had no reason to mention the errors to Silk, the Race Director of Ironman. Silk indicated to us in 2018 that she had interviewed John to get the content of the 1983 article.
A single primary source for years of Interview questions
In 2018 we recognized the content that was in the 1983 story in the Kona Race Program. Almost every question in later interviews of John linked back to something that was stated in that article.
Until August of 2018 we had thought incorrect details about Ironman origins had been created by multiple sources. We learned in 2018 there was a single source for all the myths including the idea of a single Founder. The source was a friend.
Worse, John had had a misunderstanding which reinforced the single Founder myth.
THE HARM FROM A MISUNDERSTANDING
John thought he had been heard to make an announcement on the night we came up with our triathlon plan. Six years later, in 1983, John spoke of that announcement to an interviewer. John did not know then that no one had heard him make an announcement.
The one witness to the words
I knew what John had said because he had told me. John had left our picnic table and returned to it during a very noisy intermission. He cupped his hand over my hear to repeat to me what he had said. It was a clever statement. It was still too noisy to talk. I knew no one could have heard him. The only announcements that were heard that night were the 84 relay team awards. The only announcements that could be heard by anyone that night were made in the quiet. The only quiet times that night were before and after the one very noisy intermission.
John did not want to hear from Judy or anyone else that no one had heard him make an announcement in February 1977. John later said that it did not matter if no one could hear him. He remembered what he had said. That became a sore point in our family for many years. “If a tree falls in the forest where there are no ears to hear the crash, did the falling tree make a sound?” John would not budge. John had very limited memories about that night. He remembered two particular moments. He had said something clever about triathlon to some strangers during intermission. He had mentioned Eddie Merckx at our table. He does not remember the noise levels at all.
15 years of inquiries
Beginning in 1983 John kept talking about the-announcement-that-was-not-heard. It became the lead line in print stories, a sound bite elsewhere. What could I do about it? I interviewed Honolulu triathletes and runners who were at the 1977 Relays Awards during the next 15 years. No one had heard any announcement other than the awards that night. We could not tell our story unless we settled this misunderstanding.
I urged John to downplay his announcement memory because it was misleading. Every time that John repeated the announcement-that-was-not-heard he reinforced the single Founder myth and omitted the origins story. Our decision was made sitting down at a table in February. Our announcement was made as we stood behind a lectern in October. John’s sound-bite made it sound like both had happened at the same time. The decision was made in private as we sat at our table at the running Relay Awards. The announcement was made in public as we stood in front of a swim crowd at the Swim Banquet. I tell myself now that maybe John did not realize that. Until 2018.
It is hard for me to write this. The source of the Ironman myth about a single founder who proposed a challenge to a group of athletes must have come from John. He must have said it first when in a phone conversation with someone who was interviewing him. That person was probably Valerie Silk.
An article marked by our corrections back in 1983
We did not recall an article about a 1983 interview until we found it in 2018, in August. The by-line was Carol Hogan. It took a while to sink in. We figured it out after reading the two 1980’s Kona programs and after exchanging emails with Val Silk. The 1982 article was anonymous. Neither article had Silk’s name as author. There were a lot of quotation marks in the 1983 article. The punctuation seemed to attribute statements to John Collins.
The value of checking the facts with the people who were there
I know I sound like I am singing a chorus when I say this. If we could have fact-checked Val’s two articles the correct history would have been published in 1983. The irony of these errors was this. Val’s 1982 story had some correct facts in it that were removed from the 1983 story. It was true that the first public announcement about our long distance triathlon was at the Waikiki Swim Club Banquet in Honolulu in October of 1977. John and I had made that announcement together. In the 1982 Kona Program the article said that the swimmers laughed when John listed the distances of our around-the-island triathlon. That really happened.
Wikipedia had triathlon and Ironman origins facts right from time to time in the early years. That was because our son made corrections to the site about once a year. Then Wikipedia blocked corrections to the site. Wikipedia has had errors about Ironman history ever since.
First the editing
We edited the errors in the Wikipedia account on our own. We did that so we would have it to send to interviewers. Our corrected Wikipedia article on Ironman and triathlon was very confusing and hard to read.
Then the re-writing for clarity
We then wrote another version using our own format. We sent that history to the ironman website staff in 2018 to use as a reference.
The errors on ironman.com and Wikipedia.
Sometimes we thought ironman.com was copying from Wikipedia. Both were wrong in similar ways. We were always grateful when triathletes told us about errors on the sites. At other times athletes told us when Ironman.com recycled old incorrect information about ironman origins. In 2018 we discovered those flaws ourselves.
A link to “A Tsunami of Misinformation”
One morning in early 2018 I read something that startled me. The detached large screen for my computer was awash in old photos and old incorrect ironman origins information. The file had just popped up. I did not know then how it had happened. John helped me to figure out what was going on. I must have typed words that were a link to the Ironman website.
Shock and disappointment
On the screen we saw misinformation from years past coupled with photos from Ironman files. I was shocked and disappointed to see the incorrect sentences cover my screen. Oh, no!
Still out of the loop
I labelled the experience, “A Tsunami of Misinformation.” I sent an email to ironman.com with that Subject. That was not a diplomatic move. John and I had always been very polite when we communicated with Ironman. In that email my emotions spoke and I Sent. I asked ironman.com to please run things by us so we could fact-check what they planned to post. That did not happen. We continued to be left out of the loop.
Our big finds in August 2018
The Kona Programs that we found in 2018 make sense to us now. They must be the source of the mystery that we have called the media myths.
By media myths I meant we did not know where the statements had come from. What was said did not match our experience. They were stories that never ever cited a source. We had been preparing for the 40th Anniversary of Ironman by reading through old files. Our big finds in 2018 were three articles about early Ironman and three names of triathlete writers-to-be.
IM myths at Kona in 1982, 1983 and 1988
We read incorrect statements about the origins of Ironman in the Kona programs from 1982, 1983 and 1988. Ah, hah! We see now that John was interviewed for years with questions that were based on what was said in those Kona programs. What John had said in interviews was only part of a story that had more parts. The statements cited in the articles were not always specific to our triathlon decision. Did John know that his friendly conversational answers about the 1970’s had reinforced a history of Ironman that we did not recognize?
We could have spotted the history errors before publication if we had been asked to fact-check what was written.
Three triathlete scribes
We found the names of three triathletes who became writers of the history of triathlon in the Kona Triathlon Race Programs of 1982 and 1983. I wondered about it, went through the athlete names and made the find. Oh, no. The incorrect articles, the myths about Ironman origins, were in those two race programs. The triathletes who became writers of triathlon history were Scott Tinley, Mike Plant and Bob Babbitt. Could it be that those triathlete writers had been influenced by what they had read in the Race Programs? For the two of us the media history puzzle pieces are finally coming together. “No wonder!”
Getting Ironman history wrong in the New York Times in 2019
The most recent errors that we have read were in a feature story in the Sports Section of the New York Times (NYT) in January. It was a good read if you did not know what parts were fiction. The author led off with errors that came from the Ironman.com website and some unattributed sources.
IM HISTORY ERRORS ON IRONMAN WEBSITE AND WIKIPEDIA
We had warned the reporter that the Ironman website had recycled old inaccurate Ironman origins stories in the Anniversary year. We had told the NYT scribe that Wikipedia had had Ironman origins wrong for years. Wikipedia had blocked corrections to their site many years before. We had asked to fact-check the story before it went to print since there was not an urgent deadline to publish.
OUR OFFER TO FACT-CHECK
We would have spotted the errors in the story. Making each one right would not have changed the writer’s theme or format one bit. Each correction would have been a matter of a few word changes. We had been looking forward to citing the New York Times article as an accurate source for researchers. But it is not. What a waste.
A NO NEED TO FACT-CHECK RESPONSE
We had received a note from the reporter. In effect: there is no need to fact-check, I quote you directly. Well, the direct quotes were accurate. Yet the story led off with errors in the first three short paragraphs. And elsewhere. The caption on one of the photos was simply wrong. It was a new version of wrong that was a new one to us.
A FLASH-BACK TO 1983 IN 2019
There was a large photo in the Sunday Sports section that began the feature. The story was about athlete lawsuits against Ironman triathlon. The photo was of an Ironman trophy, an “original work of art” by John Collins. The photo caption was incorrect. Parts of the story that followed were incorrect. It reminded us of how we felt when we saw the photos of the Ironman trophy for sale at the Kona airport in 1983. The NYT story reminded us of the incorrect story about Ironman that we had seen in the 1983 Kona Program a few hours later. Here we go again, in 2019.
SHOWCASING AN UNPLEASANT PART OF IRONMAN HISTORY
The New York Times story itself was about the many lawsuits filed against Valerie Silk and Ironman by athlete John Dunbar and 5 other 1978 IM participants. One of those others included in the story and in the lawsuits was Gordon Haller, the first-to-finish the 1978 Iron Man. The lawsuits by the six athletes cast a shadow on our memories of the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon. No wonder we have such mixed feelings about our part in Iron Man history. We have edited the NYT story so that the details are accurate about Ironman origins history. It is for the friends and triathletes who have asked us: What was not true about IM history in the story in the Times?
OUR IRONMAN EXPERIENCE SINCE 1983, REVISITED
The Grundman-Silk connection
We were so relieved when Hank Grundman and Nautilus saved the Iron Man Triathlon in 1980. That was wonderful. We will always be grateful for that. We did not know of the Grundman-Silk connection when we lived in Honolulu.
We did not know that Grundman was married. We did not know Valerie Silk. We did not know the two were co-owners of the Nautilus franchise in Honolulu. The big picture is that the save by Hank Grundman, as Race Director in 1980, led to another Race Director in 1981, Valerie Silk. What Silk set in motion in Kona, Hawai’i has benefitted the sport of triathlon ever since.
Our Ironman experience since 1983, revisited
We can see now that something unforeseen happened in 1979 that would puzzle us for decades. It began with the hand-off of the Iron Man box to Hank Grundman. In a few years we would begin to live with a false official history of Ironman origins. That history took shape in the Kona Programs of 1982 and 1983 and was reinforced again in 1988.
Our part of Ironman history was written before we met the author of that history, Valerie Silk. We knew Silk as a generous and influential and trustworthy person who had a sense of humor that made us laugh. We had no idea she had written about the origins of Ironman. From then on everyone knew that story but us. It took us years to catch on. Along the way we inadvertently reinforced the Ironman press releases. We did not know there were press releases. We never ever suspected that all the media misinformation had its roots in a single source. We did not learn who or what was behind the mystery of that incorrect history until August of 2018.
We knew one thing for sure. Most of the time we were not believed when we told our story. The only few who believed us were those who were not students of Ironman triathlon. We did not know what we were up against for decades. We disagreed with how we should react to the misinformation about the origins history of Ironman.
Coping with the myths
We made peace by not talking about it. We have managed to stay married. In most years we have kept Ironman and triathlon at arm’s length by being far away and not reading about it. We wrote about it a lot when interviewers contacted us. What we said seldom made print.
“Of Myths and Men”
John wrote a letter of explanation in August of 2018 about how we started Ironman. He posted the letter on the opening page of our website. It is up to me now to put together the history content for our site. John would rather read about airplanes and fly his own small plane than read our research papers and help to write our story. John has told me he will post the pages if I do the research and the writing. The ball is in my court.
Triathlon fans for life
We have never again been in the good exercise routine that we followed from 1973 to 1975 in California and from 1975 to 1979 in Hawai’i. We held some interesting jobs and did some interesting things after we left Honolulu. Along the way we bought a cruising sailboat and lived on it for twenty years. We live half the year in Panamá and half the year in the U.S. I love to take part in the Portobelo Triathlon that we started in Panamá in 1998. We jog/walk with the Hash House Harriers in Panamá on Monday evenings. I swim and we both bicycle in both of our home locations.
My wish, at one time, for our founding family of Ironman
In 2002 I had an Ironman Triathlon wish. I wanted each of our family of four to have done our original course on O’ahu and the Kona course on the Big Island. Kristin was the first in our family to do the Ironman Kona course in 1988. John has done both islands. Michael has done both islands. I finally did the Honolulu in Ironman Revisited in 2003. That was thanks to the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Bob Babbitt and Rick Kozlowsky, veterans of the 1980 Ironman on O’ahu. Kristin has yet to do the Honolulu course. I have yet to finish all of the Kona Course. I went hyponatremic on the marathon part of the Kona Ironman in 1998. I think I have the swim and the bike course in me yet. I may now be just too slow to complete the marathon in the time limit.
Not students of the sport
We were not students of triathlon and Ironman as the sports began to grow. The people who have taken up triathlon since 1980 know more about the sport than we do.
Biking, swimming and running now
We still get out the door. We have kept up our jogging and biking and swimming, off and on. We like triathlon. We like to be around triathletes. We are fans of Ironman. In Honolulu we had Mid-Pacific Road Runner shirts that said on the back, “Lucky we run Hawai’i.” I think of Val Silk when we wear them. We will always feel lucky that Valerie Silk ended up running the Ironman. “Lucky she run Hawai’i…Ironman.”
POST SCRIPT: MAY 2019, PANAMÁ CITY PANAMÁ
I think again of the Monday night when we came up with our idea for a triathlon for Hawai’i. We were at the Awards Presentation for the O’ahu Perimeter Relays. Our 7-person relay teams had run around the island after a Saturday start 9 days before.
In the dark we had run under coconut trees that were bending in the tropical breeze. In the light we had run through hot and dusty cane fields. There we wore wide-brim reflective hats because there was no shade. Every team that finished received an award. We had all run best times in our relay splits. We felt invincible. Our Road Runner shirts from the 1977 Relays keep those memories fresh. Our “Lucky we run Hawai’i” shirts led us to think “Lucky we do triathlon.” A year later we would put together our own shirts for our own event, “The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.”
The geography of a tropical island and the distances of Ironman Triathlon
“Everyday athletes” around the world enjoy completing the swim, bike and run legs of Ironman Triathlon. We say the distances were a minimum 2.385 miles for the swim, an estimated 112 miles for the bicycle, and the measured Honolulu Marathon length of 26 miles 385 yards.
Around the planet the Ironman distances are laid out to replicate the O’ahu, Hawai’i triathlon map. The original Hawaiian Ironman course was shaped by the island and is linked to images in Hawaiian history. All who begin an Ironman anywhere swim the outside-the-reef distance of the Waikīkī Roughwater Swim. Hawaiian Olympian Duke Kahanamoku swam and surfed in those same tropical waters at Waikīkī. Kahanamoku was a Gold Medal Swimmer in the Olympics of 1912. The Honolulu Marathon is a link to the Hawaiian running tradition. The motto of the marathon: “In the footsteps of the King’s Runners.” The 1979 Hawaiian Iron Man awards presentation was held dockside of Hokūlēia, the recreated Polynesian Voyaging Canoe. Ironman Triathlon athletes have a geography in common wherever they are. They swim and bicycle and run the same distances. They do the course that circled the island of O’ahu in 1978 and 1979 in The Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.