Ironman World Championship – Kona 2007
by Ben Schloegel
The single greatest one day race on earth; an honor for any person who has earned the opportunity to be there. We have come from 48 nations, various backgrounds, and every socio-economic class you can imagine. The only thing harder to get your brain around is the race itself, all 140.6 miles of windy, sun-baked, miserable, humid steps that get you to the finish line on Alihi Drive under the big Bannon Tree. I came to Kona to simply cross the line this year, the icing on the cake of an all ready tremendous season. I had dug deep into my heart and soul get my ticket punched just 6 weeks ago and I knew that Madam Pele and the Big Island could be oh so fickle. You can’t show and expect to conquer the day with anything less than every part of your body, brain and soul in tact and ready to go. I had gone to the well too many times already this season and the six weeks between the two events had been chaos. I would learn early in the day that my legs simply did not have the speed and turnover needed to really go hard and that a bug I had caught traveling over would be the culprit.
The morning of the race was beautiful, bright and clear skies and wispy clouds retreating back over the Eastern peaks and a calm ocean. The forecast had called for a perfect day of light winds, moderate heat, and plenty of sun. The race would be fast and furious up front, for me a different day was beginning to unfold. They had us in the water and lined up to go when the cannon would report at 06:45. The highlight of the day for me occurred while I was treading water awaiting the start. Each athlete kept trying to creep up on the line; officials kept sweeping back and forth across the water on their surfboards paddling straight lines, trying to keep the pack at bay. Experienced in the water and no strangers to their long boards they shoot straight across the water, just daring some jittery soul to creep a few early feet on the big day. Whether they were looking for an early line, a break or just didn’t know what the hell they were doing those athletes showed how when on the verge of a major event, all humans still act the same. Nervous energy pulsated through the water with each scissor kick and heads bobbed up spitting ocean back into the sea, just thirty seconds earlier the had given us a two minute drop dead time. In that moment of surrealism and calm I looked up and saw Laird Hamillton standing a top his long board with paddle in hand. Laird Hamillton is one of the greatest big wave surfers of all time, and a pioneer in a sport where few survive who attempt to defy the known limits. Treading water and being at eye level will certainly change your perspective on anything I swear though; I have never been in so much awe or as star struck of any other person as I was at that moment. He looked like a God standing on that board, maybe Neptune himself though his trident was the paddle he dipped into the ocean. He towered over the masses of us and with his mere presence and with silence he commanded us to heed and respect the line. It was as if he could have commanded the monsters of the depths and was merely letting us use his playground for the day. How appropriate that it was, he was to lead us into first leg of the day’s battle, the greatest triathletes on the planet, and he the greatest man to harness the ocean’s power. A reminder to us that this was the biggest day in our sport, everyone was there and ready to go, and we were lucky to simply be there.
Many came just to watch, maybe to see if the stories of extreme depths that humans could go were true. Maybe they had thought NBC had possibly exaggerated the story line for good measure and ratings. Many friends and family made the trip and if they are lucky will get to see their loved ones in quite possibly their strongest and proudest