Who would have thought my skinny little brother who used to run down our street while our dad timed him with a stop watch would end up decades later at the World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
He is now 67 years old and when I called him the day after the competition he sounded like he was at least that old. Of course had I swam 2.4 miles in the ocean, rode 112 miles on my bike and topped it off with a full 26.2 mile marathon I wouldn’t be here typing. I would have kicked the bucket.
“Kona is known for the wind and the hills,” Dale said. “I’m from Kansas, but it was ridiculous. The first 20 miles was okay. My friend who has been here told me to remember to look around so I did. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m in Hawaii and I’m riding my bike,” he said.
He and his wife, Peggy, drove to Oklahoma to ship his bike because that’s the only place he knew of that would ship it without disassembling it. When I suggested taking his beloved bike apart you would have thought I had told him to ride the girl’s bike I bought at Walmart.
But after that first 20 miles, there wasn’t much looking around because he was afraid of being blown off his bike as he pedaled against a 30 mile headwind on a steep incline.
“You couldn’t even reach for your water bottle for fear of losing control,” he said.
When he finally got off the bike and started his run, he knew it wasn’t going to be one of his better times.
“I had that stress fracture so I wasn’t able to run for five months, and after the bike my legs were shot,” he said.
But he did run and he finished. I saw it with my own eyes.
No, I wasn’t in Hawaii, I was looking at my computer screen following his initials on a map at 2 a.m. When the dot stopped a couple of times, I said out loud, “Come on, bud, you can do this, get moving,” and slow but sure he made it to the finish line.
He said the bike was “brutal,” the run was “a killer” and part of the time he was running in the dark.
This is when I asked two important questions: When did you eat and when did you go to the bathroom?
He said he ate some products high in protein and nutrients and drank water and a drink formulated especially for him.
“And you don’t have to go to the bathroom because you’re sweating so much,” he said.
He told me there were 50 countries represented and it was a great way to meet people. It takes 5,000 volunteers to keep it running smoothly. Nearly 3,000 competed. There were 286 people over the age of 60 competing.
“Unless you’ve been there you can’t believe all the details of putting the thing on and everything every competitor has to remember,” he said.
He gave the example of when you get out of the water, you go through a shower to get the salt water off, then a volunteer hands you your bike bag that has a change of clothes, shoes, socks, etc. before you hurry on where another volunteer hands you your bike. By the end of the day (night) he had five bags of stuff.
Our conversation had to end because he and Peggy were getting ready to go to the awards banquet, but not before I asked the question I’ve asked before: “Why on earth do you do this?”
“That’s a good question,” he said chuckling. “I was wondering that myself when I was out there in pain running in the dark. I guess it’s for self- gratification, knowing that I can do it. And I’ve always been competitive,” he said.
I cheered when Dale said it was his last Ironman competition. And sighed when he added, “Maybe just do shorter ones. It’s hard when you’re in that good a shape to think about losing it,” he said.
My favorite part of our conversation was him telling me the item he made sure he took with him.
“I had dad’s Masonic ring in my sock in my bike bag so I wouldn’t forget to wear it. I don’t wear it in the water because I’m afraid I’d lose it. I wear it when I compete. “
That put a lump in my throat. I thought how proud Dad would be of his older, and still skinny son. The one who ran down Gow Street being timed and always striving to do better.
Reach Bonnie Bing at firstname.lastname@example.org