From Start to Finish

The Inspiration of an Ironman and the Kona Ironman World Championship

Kirk Lee Aeder

(page 1 of 2)


Long before Robert Downey, Jr. made Iron Man a globally recognizable superhero battling baddies as Marvel’s famed comic book character, there were thousands of superbly trained and highly conditioned “Ironman” roaming this planet. And these super humans did the job sans sarcasm or a suit of armor. So, they may not be superheroes in the traditional sense of the word, but their astonishing feats of endurance most certainly qualify as “super.”  I am talking, of course, about the men and women who have conquered one of the most grueling physical tests known to man: the Ironman Triathlon.

In order to achieve the coveted title of “Ironman” (a term that is gender-neutral), one must complete an official World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) sanctioned race totaling a combined distance of 140.6 miles.  The race is split between swimming (2.4 miles), biking (112 miles), and running a full marathon (26.2 miles)—and must be completed in less than 17 hours. This is approximately 55 miles further than the distance from downtown Kona to downtown Hilo! 

The idea for the Ironman Triathlon was conceived in 1977 by U.S. Navy Commander John Collins on Oÿahu. He sought a way to settle a debate over whether the best athletes in the world were runners, swimmers, or cyclists.  The commander devised a race that would combine existing long-distance competitions: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, Around-Oahu Bike Race, and the Honolulu Marathon.  The name of the race came about when Collins stated that whoever won the arduous competition would be called the “Iron Man.”

Since the original 15 men who participated in that first competition, the race has exploded in popularity and has become a trademarked, highly regulated and marketed global event. The Ironman was moved to Kona in 1981 to add more challenging physical elements to the race, and has been held here annually in October every year since. To finish the race in time is considered an extraordinary victory in itself, and only the best-conditioned athletes in the world compete for first place.

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