A week ago I had the privilege of making the acquaintance of one of the original Iron Men.
Yes, I really mean one of the few who participated in the very first, the “inaugural” Iron Man Triathlon. In 1978. Before it was called Ironman; before it was a commercial brand. Well before you had to register a year in advance to participate.
Tom Knoll was at an even called Tri Mania being held at MIT in Cambridge (MA). It is a kind of traveling fitness expo dedicated to triathlon, visiting many cities over many weekends.
He was there to promote a triathlon race taking place in Atlantic City, and to sell his book, a kind of memoir of that very first Ironman distance triathlon.
There would be a lot to say about how that particular first event came to be, and I don’t want to undercut the sales of his book, but one thing struck me in particular, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
(By the way, the book is a quick read, and only $15, so if you get a chance, buy it. It is what books ought to be: a personal account of events, with a clear perspective and personality, not a manufactured product with an embellished story designed to captivate. Reality is captivating enough…)
Anyway, back to my point.
Tom Knoll was already a runner, and a career military man, when the event took place. A guy floated the idea of putting the event together, and started registering people. The date of the event was chosen in order for it to happen before two of the would-be participants had to ship out of Hawaii (more military folks, as you might guess).
So participants had a couple of months to train.
Yes, you read that right. A COUPLE of MONTHS. Not years, not many months. Two. (2).
And yet they rose to the challenge.
Not to win, not to compete against each other; just to see if it could be done.
Granted, these guys were fairly fit. They knew each other, for the most part, from running events in Hawaii. Some were swimmers with long distance credentials. Some had bikes already (some didn’t, or had not been riding much, or at all, since childhood).
Bottom line: The thought of attempting such a thing (which, just to be clear, had never been done at such distances, but already existed as a sport) was considered a little crazy, but a fun challenge. All they wanted to do was finish.
12 of them finished. Out of 15 who started.
Tom Knoll, although dead last out of the water (apparently, being in the Navy is no guarantee of strong swimming skills), came in 6th overall. He is “Ironman #6”. Only 5 before him ever completed an Ironman distance triathlon.
Here’s the kicker:
He was 46 at the time. The oldest of the bunch. Yet he rose to the challenge.
Not to win, not for recognition, not to go as fast as he could. But because it was a fun challenge.
Nowadays, we are too keen on competing, on going fast, on “being as good as we can be”, and we forget that we should be doing races because they are good for us. We should challenge ourselves not to be fast, but to go beyond our limits. (In a reasonable way, of course, so don’t go jumping into an Ironman race this summer because you read this. But do consider signing up for some race…)
Tom Knoll never participated again, but he continued to run. He has crossed the United States in both directions running. He has raised over a million dollars for charity with his running. He has remained active and fit throughout his life.
He is now 81, and still going strong.
What’s keeping you from rising to the challenge?
Thinking you are too old to begin? Too busy? Not fast enough to compete? Etc.?
Reconsider, please. And just do it because it is fun, and the right thing to do…
Photo credit: Some guy promoting the Atlantic City Challenge, using the author’s significant other’s iPhone.