When we first met, little did I know that I was talking to a legend. It was December of 2017 and we were at the IRONMAN World Championship NBC Broadcast Preview Party in New York City. I remember your big smile and infectious energy as you made your way around the room talking to various guests. When you told me who you were and your connection to IRONMAN, I was completely floored. Here I am, talking to the guy who finished 3rd at the 1st ever IRONMAN in 1978.
From that moment on, our paths crossed at various events and activities due to our invovlement with the IRONMAN Foundation. We dug up weeds to help restore sacred grounds on the Big Island, volunteered our time with Paradox Sports in Boulder with their adaptive climbing program, and so many other fun times. I’ll admit, up to that point I only knew you from your accomplishment as being the 3rd badass that ever finished an IRONMAN.
It was time to head back to Kona in October of 2018, and you reached out to me to see if I was also headed back to the Big Island. Somehow we connected the dots and realized we were both on the same flights from Denver to Honolulu, and then Kona. The travel angels were doing their magic, I got upgraded to a First Class seat, and there you were sitting in First Class as well. With a little bit of shuffling, our flight attendant made sure we got to seat next to each other.
It was during that flight that I had the privilege to really get to know you. That 9 hour flight flew right by in a blink of an eye. We talked about life, love, triathlon, and everything under the sun. You told me about your service in the Marines, leading to your post on the Island of Oahu where this crazy idea of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles was cooked up.
I’ll never forget learning about the nuances of your experience racing self-supported. The bike you rode was borrowed, you threw a $20 bill into the pocket of your jean shorts to buy food and drink along the way, one of your “aid stations” was a grocery store that you ran into quickly for fear that your bike would get stolen because you left it outside, and on the run your friends showed up with handups of beer.
You never hid how you felt about how the sport of triathlon has morphed from this grassroots bandit-like fun culture where finishing was a feat in itself to the now technology ridden profit-driven sport of the privileged few. Despite all these changes, your spirit and love of the sport never unwavered. You were extremely humble about all your accomplishments and had the upmost respect for the sport, how it made you a better person, and gave back to you personally in so many ways. Seeing the excitement in your eyes when the cannon went off on the Kailua Bay pier for the swim start even after 40 years since it all began gave me faith that maybe someday I would love racing long distance again.
I also remember you telling me about your battle with cancer and all the infusion treatments you had received. In fact, you missed going to Kona in 2017 because you were too ill and got stuck in Los Angeles to complete a round of infusions. No one would ever suspect that you were “sick” from interacting with you. Your spirit and energy definitely didn’t reflect that, which is something I really admired about you. You always rose to the occasion but took the time to yourself to recharge when needed. One thing that you did mention that I’ll never forget that even though the cancer suppressed your immune system, you were always willing to take that chance to be around people because you loved the energy of race week and race day on the Big Island. Nothing would make you miss being part of the fun!
You fought an amazing fight my friend. That battle is now over and you’ve cross the finish line of life. The way you lived is how we should all aspire to live. To the fullest. Dave Orlowski-style. Now you’ll live on forever in each and every one of us who’ve been blessed and lucky enough to have been part of your journey.
E hoʻomaha me ka maluhia my friend.
Kou kaikuahine me ke aloha,