In 1978 I left the United States and moved to Saudi Arabia for a job with the Arabian American Oil Company.  That same year I read an article about a new extreme event had been launched by a handful of athletes on the island of Hawaii.  Three years later three people that I worked with journeyed to Hawaii to participate in what had become known as the Ironman Competition, a triathlon of Biblical proportions.  While we may ride bikes to get or stay in shape we may occasionally wear out a tire or even a chain.  These guys were in continual training and wore out bikes instead of tires.  I remember driving through the camp one evening in the middle of a shamal.  A shamal is a dust storm that blows in from the north west and usually is hot, blinding and choking.  That evening there was Todd Marlatt running through the camp training for the event.  I asked one of the three if he was close close to winning.  He said, “Tom you don’t understand; it’s whether you finish that really matters.”

Triathlons had been around prior to 1978.  California had several but it was not until a single event in Hawaii ushered in the extreme version of the triathlon.  Sports Illustrated ran an article that said that a Belgium Cyclist had such a high oxygen uptake that perhaps cyclist were the most fit athletes in the world.  Discussion of the article took place at the award ceremony of a Hawaiian relay race.  Present at the award contest were members of a local swim event so a debate ensued as to who were the best athletes.  No one at the event were bikers but it was decided that the only way to decide who the best athlete in the world was would be to combine all sports.  And so it began

The event was named for a local man that was called the “Ironman” for his intense workouts.  Fifteen men participated in the event and each was given three sheets of paper to record their progress.  On each sheet was hand written, “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life“.  The winner of the first Ironman was a United States Navy Communication Specialist.  The runner up was a Navy SEAL.  He was ahead at the second transition but while running the marathon portion he ran out of water so his support team gave him beer to drink.

The next year with no marketing, fifty athletes showed up.  A Sports Illustrated writer was in Hawaii for a golf tournament and wrote a ten-page story of the event.  This garnered the curiosity of hundreds of athletes.  In 1982, a female athlete was leading and fell feet from the finish line due to exhaustion.  Even though she did not win she crawled across the finish line and began the mystic that finishing is winning.  One elementary teacher that I knew in Arabia also participated in in the Ironman.  Nancy Pengally was loved by her students and was also a top softball player.  She participated in her mid-40s and was ranked as one of the top 10 female triathletes in her age bracket in the world.

By 1983 a thousand athletes participated and a thousand were turned away.  A lottery system was invoked to allow athletes to participate.  Today there are Ironman qualifying races around the world with the final championship being held in Hawaii.  The feeling that finishing is winning still permeates the event.  The training has evolved to a point that the original winning time of over eleven hours has had three hours shaved from the winning time.

Farmerville has its’ own Ironman participant.  Steiny Baughman, son of Mayor Stein and wife Anne Baughman has participated and yes, he finished.

 

 

 

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