Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironmanlife: Babbitt’s take on the lottery

(Kevin Mackinnon catches up with Ironman Hall of Fame member Bob Babbitt)

“There is no lottery to go play in the masters,” Bob Babbitt says. “There is no lottery to play in the Super Bowl. But, every year, when the greatest athletes in our sport are towing the line in Kona, Hawaii, all of a sudden you can put your name on the list and have a chance to compete with them. Our sport is all about inclusion.”

You want Ironman history? There’s only one place to go. Bob Babbitt, the author of “30 Years of the Ironman World Championship” and an Ironman Hall of Fame member. When Babbitt talks, Ironmanlife columnists listen.

This is the guy who tracks down the most inspiring stories from the Ford Ironman World Championship every year. This is the guy who helped found the Challenged Athletes Foundation. This is the guy who tells the best stories about the good ol’ days of our sport. (He lived them.)

You want entertaining? Check the bike Babbitt used for his first Ironman – until he finally learned that you had to do the entire course in one day, he figured he would carry a tent and sleeping bag with him.) And this is the guy helped start that whole “surprise someone with a Kona entry on camera” thing.

The first victim, I mean, lucky winner, was an athlete competing at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida. This was back in the days when St. Anthony’s, an Olympic distance race, was a qualifier for the Ironman World Championship.

Babbitt convinced Dave Yates (the president of World Triathlon Corporation at that time) to interview one of the lottery winners at the race.

“Do you think you qualified for Kona today?” Yates asked.

“Not even close,” the athlete replied. “I’ll never be fast enough to qualify for the world championship. My only hope of getting in is through the lottery. I enter every year.”

“Funny you should say that,” Yates replied. “I’m the president of WTC, and you’ve qualified for the Ironman World Championship.”

The man started to cry. Babbitt and the film crew captured it all.

A few years later, Babbitt was on hand when Willie Stewart was surprised on air with a lottery spot for Kona. Stewart had lost his arm during the construction of the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. He was in an air conditioning duct when he got snagged in a rope. Next thing he knew, the rope pulled his arm up into a fan.

Stewart has become a walking inspiration to anyone who has lost an arm. He’s won the Catalina Marathon. He’s won medals at the Paralympics in cross country skiing. He’s kayaked through the Grand Canyon. Much of that inspired by winning that lottery spot for Kona.

“Something about him completing the Ironman changed his perception of himself,” Babbitt remembers.

Stewart’s hardly alone on that one. After all his years of watching the event, Babbitt has noticed one important trait among those who get in through the lottery.

“I don’t think any lottery winner could be more excited than the people who get into the Ironman through the lottery,” he says. “It’s a life-changing experience, especially for people who won’t ever be able to qualify. Getting into the Super Bowl – being allowed to compete with the best in the world – it’s such a privilege. Most of the people who get in through the lottery finish, and do well. They realize this is probably going to be their one shot. I’ve seen people take six months off work to prepare.”

“The lottery is a book in itself,” Babbitt said as we were ending our conversation, talking about all the amazing stories that we’ve come across over the years.

He’s right – now one of us has to hurry up and write it!

To enter the Ford Ironman World Championship lottery, which closes Feb. 28, visit

(Reach Kevin Mackinnon at

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