Ironman Founders Participate in Panama 70.3 Festivities

John and Judy Collins join the action at Ironman 70.3 Panama

Published Thursday, January 5, 2012

While Ironman fans will know John and Judy Collins as the founders of the Ironman triathlon back in 1978, many of us might not be aware that they now spend much of the year in Panama. The two will be on hand to witness the first official Ironman race in the country - Ironman 70.3 Panama takes place on Sunday, February 12, 2012. Judy Collins shares some of her Panama triathlon memories with us here at

Here’s an excerpt of a story Judy Collins posted on the site 

John and I sailed out of San Diego Bay, from Coronado, California, in 1992. We were headed to Scotland via the Panama Canal.

Our journey was on our cutter sailboat, a Tayana '37. We had named the yacht "Primo" in honor of the local beer sponsor of many of the popular running events held in Hawaii in the 1970's. In 1974, in San Diego, our family was in the first triathlon in the U.S. We moved to Hawaii in 1975 from California. Triathlon had not then reached Hawaii. Our running and swimming in Hawaii led to our creation of The Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in 1978, in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. In 1981 the Ironman moved to Kona, on the island of Hawaii. By 1992 we were sailing south and east from the west coast of the U. S. Our running and swim training was fading into the past.

We arrived at the Panama Canal on a Friday in October 1993. We went through the canal on Tuesday with a plan to continue on to Scotland by Thursday. "Primo" and the two of us are still here in Panama, 18 years later.

… When we first dropped anchor in Linton Bay in Portobelo National Park … we could jump off the boat to swim in clean water and see coral and fish. When we went ashore there were hard-packed country roads perfect for bicycling and jogging and walking. There were coastal hills and mountains for hiking and old forts to explore. My first thought was that I would like to anchor "Primo" here to train to do Ironman Kona. John had completed the first Ironman in 1978 in which I was a last minute DNS (Did Not Start). Our son Michael was an Ironman Finisher in 1979, at age 16. Our daughter Kristin had been the first in the family to be an Ironman Finisher at Kona, in 1988. I had yet to do an Ironman. Portobelo National Park was the place for me to start training again.

… We entered a triathlon at a U. S. Army base in Panama. Some athletes were Panamanians. Most were US. military who had done triathlons elsewhere. We knew the military triathletes would be gone by 1999. We wanted to design a tropical course triathlon to help us to train to take part in the 20th Anniversary Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. And we wanted to give a boost to the sport of triathlon in Panama. The country of Panama had never been represented on the roster of athletes at the Ironman World Championships at Kona. What could we do to change that?

… Where we lived on the Atlantic side of Panama was a wonderful place. That part of the Province of Colon is an area rich in historic remnants, tropical waters, plants and animals all about and stories to go with them all. We wanted to show it off to Panamanians and to international visitors. We knew from experience that a popular international triathlon could boost the economy of a region. We talked about the potential tourism benefits with friends and neighbors on the coast. We mapped out a challenging one-way course that would start at Isla Grande and end past the city of Portobelo in Buenaventura. The Spanish Main Triathlon would take place within the boundaries of the Portobelo National Park.

… "D Day," 6 June 1998, was the date for our first triathlon. The check-in and swim finish area was below our new property at Juan Gallego. We hired local pangas to carry the swimmers to the start on the white beach at Isla Grande. What a sight to see the entrants show up with their bright bicycles, ready to go, lycra-clad, serious, enthusiastic. The course details of that year and the next two were colorful and changing. What we gained that day were some volunteers from the coast who became excited about supporting our triathlon there. 

… We rode on unpaved roads for most of the bike course. We tracked the athletes with the help of friends who were amateur radio operators. The GPS modes we used to map the course still wiggled an inexact location for military security reasons.

… It ended up that the sport of triathlon became popular in Panama very fast. There were already active bicyclists and runners in the country and swimmers too. Soon a triathlon organization was formed in Panama. A triathlon began on the Pacific side, in Coronado (!), Panama. A program of triathlons for kids was started. The sport took off under the auspices of a new organization, the Union de Triathlon de Panama, the UTP.

Our farewell contribution to triathlon in Panama was to help to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the visit of Christopher Columbus. Cristobal Colon's fourth voyage to the New World was in 1502. The" Union de Triathlon de Panama and Los Triathletas Panamenos" marked the occasion with Triathlon Cristobal Colon (1502-2002)..."al celebrar los 500 anos de la visita de Cristobal Colon a nuestras costas."

The Panamanian Department of Tourism is promoting the new Ironman event, "Ironman 70.3 Panama."

… February 12, 2012 will be a special day for sports tourism in the country and another milestone for triathlon in Panama. Best of all many of the Panamanian entrants in "Ironman 70.3 Panama" are men and women who are Ironman Finishers already, veteran participants in the world of international triathlon.

For more information about triathlon events in Panama and Ironman 70.3 Panama, see and

Copyright 2011

Ironman 70.3 WebSite, 5 January, 2012