Back to the Real Iron Age

September 07, 2003

They had purchased two-way radios. Now all they needed were code
names. Sid Jensen would be Groundhog. His brother, Greg, crewing
for him, chose Shadow.

"They worked great," said Groundhog of the radios, "as long as
they were turned on." The brothers Jensen, of Crockett, Calif.,
were on Oahu in August of last year for the Ironman Revisited, a
quaint and determinedly retro triathlon staged to raise money for
the Challenged Athletes Foundation (which helps disabled athletes
acquire equipment), and to give racers a taste of what it was
like to compete in the original Ironman. That race was held on
Oahu in 1978 and drew 15 competitors. Three years later the
Ironman moved to the Big Island, where it has become big
business. Close to 1,500 started last year's edition, and as
racers and their rigs have become sleeker and faster, the
middle-of-the-pack athlete has been nudged aside. Now a version
of the Ironman is back (and laid back) on Oahu. IR, as it is
called, allows pluggers who possess the stamina to finish the
real-deal Ironman--but not the speed to qualify or make its time
cutoffs--to get around the course at their own pace. The IR
doesn't do qualifying standards or time limits and, in its two
years, has never had a racer not finish.

Whether it enjoys that perfect record because of Shadow or in
spite of him remains an open question. A 33-year-old phys-ed
teacher and former Santa Clara offensive lineman whose pallor and
shaggy mane evoke memories of Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice,
Shadow proved to be a slightly erratic support-crew member. Last
year, while his older brother sat by the side of the road with a
flat tire, 50 miles into the 112-mile bike leg, Shadow was deaf
to his distress calls, tucking into a Jack in the Box breakfast
while the radio sat in the back of the van, switched off.

Five miles into the marathon this year, Groundhog was lying on
the pavement, a chocolate mess. Looking up, he saw a pair of
prostheses--the legs of 14-year-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who'd
done the 2.4-mile swim as part of the Challenged Athletes Relay.
Garcia-Tolson, who was out of the water in a stunning 56 minutes,
looked down at Groundhog and said, "Get up, big man, and finish
this thing." Jensen did.

"The breakfast incident and the Gu incident aside," says
Groundhog--referring to an unfortunate misunderstanding midway
through the biking leg, when, desperate for a nutritional boost,
he had shouted "Gu! Gu! Gu!" but his brother had heard "Go! Go!
Go!" and driven away--"what I like about this race is it makes
him and me, umm, closer."

There's a lot of that going around at IR. With the fields far
smaller than at the Ironman--27 racers this year--and the
attitudes more relaxed, "you get much more of a feeling of ohano,
or family," says Judy Collins, who with her husband, John,
founded the Ironman 25 years ago. No one did more to cultivate
ohano than the Sicards, Michael and Jennifer, of Nashville.
Michael, 34, did the race last year; Jennifer, 33, crewed for
him. They got married on the way to the awards ceremony. They did
this year's IR together, completing the biking leg on a tandem.

IR people are in less of a hurry than participants in the actual
Ironman. The Sicards stopped often for shaved ice. Michael
Collins, John and Judy's son, got off his bike at last year's IR
to take a dip in the ocean. Back in 1979, when he was 16, Michael
finished the Ironman in 24 hours, 25 minutes and 58 seconds. He
remembers walking toward the finish line as the sun rose. "I'll
tell you what a bad day is," he says. "A bad day is when you've
been on the course for 24 hours, and the paperboy rides by,
delivering a paper with results of a race that you're still in."

At this year's IR it was his mother's turn to bring up the rear.
While following behind Judy as she walked through a tony
neighborhood at 2 a.m., John drew the attention of the police.
"We have a report of a man in a VW van stalking a woman," said
the officer.

"I'm actually crewing for her," John said. The police went away.

IR finishers are given traditional Hole-in-the-Head trophies,
welded together, as they were for the original Ironman, by John,
in his hotel room, on his trusty Sears Workmate on the eve of the
event. Welded to stick-figure bodies, the trophy's hexagonal
heads nicely capture the personalities of the people taking them
home. Close examination reveals that they are nuts.

The next SI Adventure will appear in the Oct. 13 issue.

COLOR PHOTO: PHIL MISLINSKI OH, BROTHER Groundhog (left) won't look at his Shadow.

This Ironman doesn't do qualifying standards or time limits--and
has NEVER HAD A RACER NOT FINISH.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)