We usually think of sport as being insulated from world events. But every once in a while we are hit hard with another reality. One of those happened on September 11, 2001.
Right in the meat of IRONMAN World Championship preparation the now infamous terrorist attack happened. Tim DeBoom was one of those getting ready for the race to come in just a few weeks time.
It was in the morning. Most people were just getting their day going out west. In New York a surreal scene unfolded as two passenger jets were flown directly into the side of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. In less than two hours, both towers had collapsed completely taking 2996 lives in the process.
Nothing like this had happened anywhere. There’s no frame of reference to keep it from being anything but dizzying. The immediacy of cable news was broadcasting the attack and the aftermath live. In an instant the entire world froze in disbelief.
Tim DeBoom was one of those trying to find a reality anchor. One moment life was routine. Another day of training was coming up. IRONMAN was weighing heavy on his mind. And then the next he was questioning why racing had any importance compared to what had just happened.
“My build up to the race, prior to 9/11, was perfect. I didn’t change much from the year before. But my motivation was different. In 1999, I was third and very relieved to finally have a decent result on the Big Island. In 2000, I proved 1999 wasn’t a fluke, but I was very disappointed with second place. I believed little mistakes cost me my first title. I was angry and thought of nothing but Kona for that entire year. That second place fed my training for twelve months.”
“Then 9/11 happened, and everything was different. The world was in shock, and for days, I felt ridiculous and selfish for even thinking about training and racing. No one knew if the race was even going to take place. Finally, once I headed over to the Hawaii, I was able to compartmentalize things and think about racing again.”
The IRONMAN World Championship that year was going to be the first major championship event held on US soil after the attacks.
Kona’s normally gentle Aloha spirit had been overrun. There was security everywhere. It was a sporting event with a military overtone. No one was messing around who was in charge of keeping things safe for everyone, and there were a lot of armed security very visible.
Fortunately, IRONMAN does have a way of stepping out of time on race day and revealing the drama, the challenge and the joy of competition.
Tim DeBoom was focused. He had a singular purpose. But there was perhaps some kind of equalizing force that enabled him to have a race that helped balance the scales just a little for people in the US. They would be able to celebrate an American, Tim DeBoom, winning.
“I constantly get asked if 9/11 was that extra “push” I needed to come away with my first victory. In all honesty, I don’t remember thinking much about it during the race.”
“However, looking back, I can’t describe the energy I had running back towards town and the finish line. I could have kept running forever. Was it my “once in a lifetime” race? Was it just another year of experience that helped me? Or, was it something else?”
“What I do remember is carrying the American flag across the finish line. So many competitors from all over the world were doing the same thing to the unrelenting chants of, “USA! USA!” That’s when the significance of what I had done began to sink in. I was proud of myself, America, and the coming together of the IRONMAN community.”
Here’s what Tim DeBoom had to say about the focus necessary to become and IRONMAN World Champion:
This is a Top-40 Greatest Moment at IRONMAN for a reason that is hard to put into concrete words. There was a sense among everyone there that Tim DeBoom winning was a form of universal justice. He was from a country whose core had been rocked.
It was life showing us all that no matter how dark one day is, there will always come another that shines brightly. There will always be something we can all celebrate and be inspired to keep us going. IRONMAN delivered up a moment of healing not only for this nation, but for everyone around the world who was shocked by the events of 9/11.
Join us at MarkAllenCoaching.
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.