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Ironman: Pre-race sights and sounds around Kona

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The starting line for the Keiki Dip n Dash. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

With just three days until the 2011 Ironman World Triathlon Champion, Kona is rolling out the welcome carpet.

The sidewalk along the seawall is repaired and the start/finish post is back up. The March tsunami that washed away chunks of sidewalk and flooded the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is all but a memory.

The bleachers were going up and the athletes were winding down their training late Wednesday in anticipation of the big race.

1994 World Champion Greg Welch interviews a young athlete. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Dip n Dash

Before the grown-ups do their thing, Ironkids get a chance to show off at the Keiki Dip n Dash.

This year’s biathlon was Tuesday afternoon and featured dozens of budding athletes, some as young as 3.

They could choose from two swim/run courses:
* Short course: 50-yard swim, 0.25-mile run
* Long course: 150-yard swim, 0.9-mile run

All the finishers were presented with a medal and post-race snacks. Oh, and a parade – the next generation led the annual Parade of Nations down Alii Drive.

Taking off on the run. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Closing in on the finish line. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Stoffel from Switzerland

Richard Stoffel trekked through the hotel lobby with a bike under one arm and a laptop computer under the other.

The 43-year-old sports journalist from Switzerland is competing in his sixth Ironman. He didn’t set out to be a triathlete, but after covering races for several years, he decided to try it for himself.

Although he was familiar with what it takes on race day, he learned what it takes to prepare for a race.

“You have to train every day. You have to be very focused on your training and nothing else,” he said.

Stoffel said his girlfriend is very understanding and supportive. She knows there will be piles of sweaty laundry, a specific diet, early mornings and no parties until after Ironman.

She also plays a pivotal role in his training.

“I ride my bike up the Alps for training, but it is so cold you cannot ride down. Or you will die,” he said.

Because he can’t risk the chance of frostbite or an accident in bad weather, his girlfriend drives to the top of the mountain and waits to give him a ride back home.

“Training is very hard to do all the time and I have a very special girlfriend. Then race day is something completely different,” he said. “Tomorrow you can relax.”

So, will Stoffel’s girlfriend be waiting for him at the finish line?

“No, she stayed at home,” he said. “Somebody has to look after the dog.”

Stoffel joked that while he is on his Ironman quest, his girlfriend and the dog are having a holiday at home.

He said he also has a greater appreciation for the volunteers who line the course and man the aid stations.

“They are great. They really love what they are doing,” Stoffel said. “They are very encouraging for every athlete. They have big smiles and that gives you another view of the day when it is getting tough.”

Unfortunately, Stoffel said he can’t stop to thank each volunteer.

“When I am running so fast, I don’t get to smile back,” he said. “There is only time to grab the cup and keep going. So now I say thank you to them all.”

Dip n Dash transition area. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)


Kicked back in the lobby, Robert Taylor was taking a break from promoting his CALU online sports management degree program.

Taylor, 49, from Lexington, S.C., has raced Ironman before and continues to run triathlons, most recently two weeks ago in Las Vegas.

He also has volunteered at plenty of races, including being a finish line catcher and bike catcher during the 2004 Ironman.

“I was more tired after that than I ever was racing. No lie,” he said. “My legs were so tired. I bet I drank a half-case of Gatorade that day. That was the tiredest I’ve ever been.”

Taylor said he loves racing and volunteering, but is quite happy with the slower pace of being a vendor this year.

“I really enjoyed doing it and I’m glad I did it,” he said. “It’s pretty well orchestrated.”

Meanwhile, in the media credentials office, Shirley and Don David were handing out wristbands and badges, and chatting with visiting journalists.

“We moved here from Sacramento on race day in 2004 and have volunteered since 2005,” said Don, 64, a retired accountant. “We done all kinds of things — athlete check-in, catching at the finish line, escorting, medals.”

“It brings so much enthusiasm to town. Hawaii is wonderful and I love to share it with people,” Shirley, 61, said. “We travel a lot and it’s fun to see so many people coming from places we’ve visited.”

“We come down for the swim start and then head home,” Don said.

“We live down Alii Drive near the run turnaround,” Shirley said. “It’s a big neighborhood event.”

“One neighbor cooks hot dogs for the kids and they make signs,” Don said. “It’s just a fun day.”

Jan War

Jan War has been the swim director for 24 years and has watched Ironman grow up.

“I’ve seen a lot as far as development of the race,” War said. “October used to be the slowest month, now it’s one of the busiest for Kona. But it’s about much more than the economy.

“There really is an Ironman family. This is were we all get together every year,” he said. “The Mahalo Party on Monday night following the race is where we get to say thank you to the volunteers.”

About 5,000 people sign on to help make the race work.

“What I like most about the race is the behind-the-scenes things that make it happen,” War said. “There are some special moments every year.”

The race also leaves something behind each year, War said.

“This is such a healthy image for our kids to see. These are the healthiest people on the planet and it’s great for the next generation to see what they can be,” he said.

“This is a multi-billion dollar industry now,” War said. “And it all started right here in Kona.”

Ironman triathletes and Cindy Coats' Ironman 2011 edition painting. (Photo special to Hawaii 24/7)

Cindy Coats

Directly across from the Kailua Pier start/finish line is Cindy Coats Gallery. The Kona artist counts Ironman as one of her favorite days of the year.

“I’m right here in the middle of it all. The energy is so infectious,” Coats said. “So many of the athletes come back year after year. Their families have time while they are out on the bike, so we catch up. You make new friends.”

Coats is one of the businesses along Alii Drive that stays open Ironman day.

“It’s amazing for business. It’s my busiest day of the year,” she said. “Some people choose to look at Ironman as a disruption, but the majority embrace it. I choose to embrace it and I have been rewarded.”

Eric Harr and Vivienne, 7. Harr says his daughter is his inspiration. (Photo special to Hawaii 24/7)

Eric Harr and his $1 million quest

Former professional triathlete and founder of a social media agency Eric Harr wants to raise $1 million in the time it takes him to complete the race.

As an ambassador for CARE, a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty by empowering women, Harr figures its about time he uses his sporting skills to do some good.

“I would come to races and try to win. Now I’m a father and CARE ambassador, I have a different mindset,” he said. “I want to use my triathlon skills and social media involvement to for good. In the 9 hours it will take me to finish the race, 7,000 to 8,000 children will have perished in Third World countries. And I just can’t ignore that.”

Harr hooked up with CARE after he retired from racing and after his daughter was born in 2003.

“Let’s face it, men haven’t done a great job in this world. Give them a dollar and it doesn’t always go toward feeding their families,” he said. “I see the strength of my daughter and my wife and I know that when you empower women, you do good for the entire community.”

Harr, who lives in California, qualified for his first Ironman World Triathlon Championship earlier this year at the Honu 70.3.

“I’ve never raced in Hawaii. Even at the peak of my professional days. So this is a dream for me,” Harr said. “Once I qualified at the Honu race, I knew we had to seize this opportunity. This is my moment. It was all very serendipitous.”

Harr hopes to finish in under 9 hours, which will coincide with the fundraising campaign.

“We’ll start the drive when the race starts at 7 a.m. Hawaii time and it stops when I finish racing,” he said. “It’s very realistic to raise $1 million.”

Follow Harr’s progress race day and make donations by logging on to two Twitter feeds: #EverySecondCounts and #CareIronman.

“I tell you, when the NBC theme music stops playing in your head about 10 miles into the run, the romance of the race falls away pretty quick and you better be racing for something,” he said. “This isn’t about me. Every second counts and every dollar will help.”

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