This series of 40 Stories is not necessarily about the most public displays of greatness. It’s about chapters in the IRONMAN World Championship history that I have witnessed that will impact my life forever.
There are many great events that won’t be on my list. That in no way means they have less significance than what I am highlighting. My list does not include the very first year of the race in 1978, which is why we are celebrating 40-years of IRONMAN. It doesn’t include Lyn Lemaire becoming the first woman to cross the IRONMAN finish line in 1979. The list of those incredible moments in IRONMAN history are not on my list because, well, neither was I.
I want to tell these from a very personal perspective. My moments are the ones I was part of and witnessed personally. Most of all this particular shout out is a moment that only three people saw and one athlete experienced. There were no photos or video of it taken. But that in no way diminishes how impactful it was.
About five years ago I witnessed one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen at the IRONMAN World Championship. It was mystical. It was a split second that showcased why the Island of Hawaii makes IRONMAN great. And this moment involved a one-armed athlete whose name I don’t know.
This particular IRONMAN was extremely windy. As you can imagine, if you are a one-armed athlete, cycling through incredible winds is a situation you would prefer not to face. But IRONMAN has no favorites. It doesn’t care about what YOU prefer. It just dishes out the goods and then lets the athletes figure out what to do with them.
Here is one of those simple but incredibly powerful personal stories told by Minda Dentler. She explains her journey through the IRONMAN World Championship:
But back to the story at hand. My job this day was to work with the television crew filming IRONMAN. I basically sat in a car with the producer of the show all day. We followed the pivotal stories unfolding on the race course. My job was to ramble on about what I am seeing at the front of the race and to give a perspective on what was happening on the day as a whole.
Our car had pulled off to the side of the bike course about 20-miles outside of town. We were just there waiting for no real reason in particular. The lead men and women has passed by already. But at IRONMAN the real stories are not exclusive property of the leaders. Every moment can be a once in a lifetime event! We were about to witness one of those moments.
The IRONMAN bike course can be horrendous. In a matter of feet, the winds can go from silent to violent. We were about to witness a one-armed athlete dealing with this torrential jolt.
Where we were parked was in a cutout of the hillside on the Queen K Hwy. There were winds, but where we were waiting, watching, it was silent. Yet after the gap protected by the cutout we were situated in, the sidewinds were tremendous. We watched as athlete after athlete went from the temporary protection of the cutout into the reality of the winds of Hawaii.
The transition was not gradual. It happened in a second. And the impact was almost blowing every single person off their bikes. They’d swerve, grab their handle bars, stop pedaling and try to regain a straight line as they got blown well beyond the centerline in the road.
And then I saw him coming. It was a one-armed athlete. And yes, he had one arm!
It was then that I blurted out to the other two in our car that this guy has no hope! Athletes with two arms were almost getting blown off their bikes when they hit the open spot after the cutout. This guy was sure to go down. But what happened next defies all.
He road to the opening where he left the protection and was sideswiped by the winds. What happened? He didn’t swerve. He didn’t waver. There was absolutely no sign that the winds were hitting him, even though they were continuing their incredible howl.
Yes, IRONMAN is magic. It defies explanation.
That moment is in my Top-40 Greatest Moments at IRONMAN because it defies explanation. And I saw it. I witnessed it, but I cannot tell you what happened there. But that is what makes IRONMAN the experience that it is.
It’s athletes focused on a goal in a land that is powerful and very spiritual. The IRONMAN experience is not told by the numbers on your devices that measure your body. It’s shared through the stories of the unexplainable that happen beyond those numbers. It’s the one-armed athlete not being touched by the winds that were causing all others to nearly crash!
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I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.