"The World in One Place," Ashley Boyle (2012)

Figure 1, Iron Man racer“You are an Ironmaaaaan!” Tom Reilly’s voice booms over the loud speakers that surround the entire downtown area of Kona, Hawaii. As far as the eye can see there are spectators creating an aisle leading the athletes to the finish line. I can see the desperation in their eyes, they want to cross the finish line so bad just so they know all the training and hard work has paid off. (Figure 1) After a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run some of the athletes can barely stay upright, but others seem to be in the same condition as they started. No matter what condition, every athlete gets their final burst of adrenaline to cross the finish line from the spectators and fellow athletes cheering them on. There’s no other time and place like the days of Ironman Hawaii Kona World Championships. People from all around the world come to spectate and compete in one of the most challenging races of all time. The intensity is high and the amount of Gu packets that will be eaten is excessive, but even with all the type A personalities and drive to be the best everyone finds a way to give Kona, Hawaii a sense of worldly sportsmanship.

It seems odd that anyone would ever want to voluntarily sign up to compete in an Ironman. Especially considering all the pain and training one would have to endure, but as I’ve observed there are more than enough people who like putting themselves through the misery. And if you were to ask them about it they would call it “fun.” All of this started in 1977 with an argument between athletes about who were the fittest: swimmers, cyclists, or runners. Overhearing this argument a commander of the US Navy and his wife came up with the idea of the “ultimate race” in order to settle the debate, and whoever finished the race would get the title of being the ultimate athlete: the Ironman. “The gun will go off about 7am, the clock will keep running and whoever finishes first we’ll call the Ironman”(Triathlon Plus). Only fifteen competitors came to Honolulu for the chances of becoming the first ever Ironman. Slowly, each year, this race started getting the attention of people from around the world. People wanted to come watch, and more importantly, people wanted to compete. The event starting growing and more Ironman events began popping up all over the world. Eventually the original Ironman event was moved to Kona, Hawaii in order to support the mass of spectators and the demand of competitors who wanted to be apart of the race. Now, to get into Ironman Kona you must qualify in another Ironman race by placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in your age group. Or, if you’re lucky enough you can be chosen out of a lottery of people from around the world. For most Ironmen, Kona is just something they dream about, but for those who can have a chance to compete there they say it’ s like nothing they have ever done before.

As I walk through downtown Kona two days before the Ironman race, I’m amazed at how many athletic type people I see. There are barely any cars on the street because it seems as if everyone who wanted to get anywhere would run or bike there. The town of Kona was completely reinvented to aid those who wanted to run or bike. About every half mile or so there would be a booth set up with replenishing items that would aid those who were running or biking. Each booth was a different brand name of products like Gatorade, Muscle Milk, Power Bar, and much more. It felt like Mardi Gras for fit people. Instead of alcohol and free beads there’s Muscle Milk and free Erin Baker cookies. All the people dressed in their compression socks and bright colored athletic wear almost felt like costumes and there were plenty of people shouting from balconies at the people below. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, but I was sucked up into the atmosphere of it all.

All the commotion made me want to take part in the action. So with wide eyes and a sense of curiosity I kept walking through the town. Each new place I looked there was something to do with the Ironman. Whether it was a sign or a product with the Ironman symbol on it every business was happy to welcome the athletes and the spectators. There was one jewelry store which kept posters from every year of the Ironman so athletes that were competing in the event could sign it to leave their mark forever. I was amazed at how the locals welcomed the Ironman event and so happily tolerated all the people. The Ironman company also knows how much work the locals do for the Ironman every year so to give back the Ironman company donates money the the town of Kona. Usually the money goes to a specific cause, like this year the money the Ironman company donated went to rebuilding the town’s local church. The support that everyone who is in Kona during the time of the Ironman gives is amazing, especially because it is people from around the world gathering for one event.

Hawaii triathlonThe day of the Ironman is a spectacle I can never forget. The most amazing moment was the morning before the swim start. Moments before the cannon goes off when everyone is in one place waiting to see the most known and challenging Ironman to begin. Thousands of spectators cheering loudly excited to see all the athletes take off. (Figure 2) In the spot I’m standing I can barely see where the athletes are entering the water but I have a clear view of where they are starting. The 1,800 blue and pink swim caps are wading in the water awaiting the boom of the cannon. Finally Tom Reilly’s voice comes on the loud speaker to start the countdown, “...3, 2, 1!” BOOM! Every spectator begins to yell and cheer. I had chills as I watched the athletes begin their journey of completing the Ironman Hawaii Kona World Championship.

The time the athletes are on the bike aren’t the most exciting moments. It gives the spectators a chance to catch their breath and take a second to take in the beauty of Hawaii. Even though the break is short lived, I am more than excited to pick a spot and cheer the runners to the finish. The finish is a miraculous moment that gives me chills every time someone steps onto the ramp and then across the finish line. I know what they just did, they know what they just achieved, and the crowd knows how happy they must be. It’s very inspiring to be there at that moment and it seems as if everything goes in slow motion. Every person I saw cross the finish line I would take a moment to look at the expression on their faces. They just finished the ultimate race to become the ultimate athlete.

Ironman Kona gives people a chance to experience people from around the world in one place. Everyone gets along and everyone wants to be apart of the experience. It amazes me that an event can go from a challenge taken by fifteen people in order to become the ultimate athlete to a spectacle that people dream of experiencing. Only a handful of Ironman athletes get to compete in Kona each year, but anyone can go to support the people who are trying to achieve their dreams. It’s an amazing experience which only happens once a year, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Final Hour montage of IMKona 2012

IMKona race day montage

Works Cited

32konatown. “Hawaii Ironman Triathlon 2012 World Championships.” YouTube. 17 October 2012. Web. 1 December 2012.

Fabian, Justin. “2012 Ironman World Champ Peter Jacobs on the Run to the Finish Line.” justinfabian.wordpress.com. 26 October 2012. Web. 29 November 2012. IronmanTriathlon. “Final Hour 2012 IMKona.” YouTube. Web. 29 November 2012.

Pistrano, Tessa. “World Championship Kona, Hawaii.” ironstruck.com. 25 October 2012. Web. 29 November 2012.

Triathlon Plus. “Ironman Hawaii: History of the Kona World Championships.” triradar.com. 10 September 2012. Web. 29 November 2012.