I had the opportunity to talk with Julie Moss the other day (Feb 6, 2017 to be exact). I was working on another piece for TriHistory. “Sorry I missed your call, Mike,” Julie said. “I was doing my anniversary ride with Kathleen.”
That would be Kathleen McCartney, Julie’s partner...
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History, it has been argued, is written by the victors. But In this case, it is being written by a few of us who were there and are willing to write it. A fool’s errand, perhaps. Surely, the question will be asked and answered: Does anyone really care? Time will tell.
Why trihistory.com? Well, why history of anything at all? Historians are driven to remember, record, interpret. It feels almost genetic. You’re either interested in the past or you’re not. It means something to you or it doesn’t. But if it does -- and particularly if it’s connected to a physical activity in which you are actively, perhaps even passionately, involved – you’re all in. We’re interested in the history of triathlon for the same reason we’re interested in the history of our families, our parents; it matters how it all came together. It matters because we are both players in the ongoing genealogical drama and products of all that has gone before.
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Before triathlon existed in Northern California, I raced triathlon Hall of Famer, Dave Scott, in a run-swim event. It was August of 1976 and the race was held at Pacific Shores in Redwood City, California. I’d known Dave from collegiate swimming and water polo but failed to ask him why he was warming up for a run-swim by riding his bike. It turns out, later that year he’d compete in perhaps the first triathlon in Northern California. In November 1976, Dave and his dad, Vern Scott, the first president of the USAT, competed in a nine-mile bike, four-mile run and a fifteen hundred-meter swim. The event produced by the Dolphin Club, was staged in and around San Francisco’s famed Aquatic Park.
I didn’t become aware of triathlon until March 23, 1980, when I watched Dave on Wide World of Sports winning his first of six Hawaiian Ironman titles. I was heading off to law school at Hastings in San Francisco in 1980, but I knew I wanted to participate in a triathlon. As it turned out, the Northern California triathlon scene was just emerging in 1981. At least two other Northern California triathlons existed prior to 1981 – the Lodi Triathlon beginning in August 1979, and the Davis Triathlon, beginning in October 1979.
In 1981, after my first year of law school, I competed in every Northern California triathlon I could find. There was no internet or easy way to find information about events. I combed through all the local sports publications, most notably a San Francisco publication called City Sports; a free sports magazine that listed all local running and triathlon events in Northern California. For years, City Sports was delivered monthly to local running stores, swim centers, and bike shops. City Sports was the go-to source for endurance events in the early 1980’s.
Back in the day when people were still looking at triathletes as if they were gods or fools, Miranda Carfrae was still in diapers, and fig newtons and chocolate chip cookies were the multisport energy foods of choice, a young man in Walnut Creek, California decided that he had what it took to be a triathlon coach.
Some stories are told through pages; visual text in black and white. Other stories are orally-woven, verbal campfire chronicles that rattle and shake. And sometimes the best are too often never told in the quiet settlement of a singular person’s quest—a regular person in a regular life, denying the banality of his or her existence by asking why not? Why shouldn’t I do what compels me, what keeps me up at night, however measured or far away? I’m no hero but there is this thing that no one has done.
By all accounts, the performance of 35-year-old American triathlete Tim O’Donnell at the 2015 Ironman World Championships in Kona was a breakthrough – especially so on the bike. There was a discernable note of surprise in the race-day coverage when O’Donnell went strongly to the front on the way down from the turnaround at Hawi. And in interviews after the race, O’Donnell admitted to sharing in that surprise – at least a little. Suddenly, there he was in front. What now?