October 16, 2003
Santa Cruz County Sentinel
By KAREN KEFAUVER
Julie Moss changed the sport of triathlon forever with her stunning performance at the Hawaii Ironman in 1982. She was leading the women’s swim-bike-run race after nearly 10 hours when she collapsed from exhaustion within 100 yards of the finish line.
With millions watching on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the 23-year-old Moss summoned the strength to crawl across the finish line in second place. Her determination to complete the race motivated a new wave of triathlon competitors and put the sport on the map.
Twenty-one years later, Moss, a Santa Cruz resident, will return to compete at the 25th annual Hawaii Ironman World Championships Saturday in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.
Moss, 45, will join three other top-notch county athletes — Kathy Frank, 55, Gaylia Osterlund, 42, and Allison Grant, 24 — to tackle what is considered one of the world’s hardest one-day endurance events: a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride through lava fields and 26.2-mile road marathon.
The race begins at 7 a.m., with 1,500 muscle-bound triathletes charging the turquoise water in a mass start. Battling 82-95-degree heat and 90 percent humidity, plus winds that can topple cyclists with 60-mph gusts, competitors have 17 hours to finish the race by the midnight cutoff time (the race is scheduled to coincide with the full moon). The marathon ends on the famed Alii Drive where the top finishers are cheered over the finish line by as many as 25,000 fans.
In the field of competitors from 50 countries, Santa Cruz County sends an all-female delegation for the first time. They have traveled and trained together for the invitation-only event. To earn a coveted spot at the world championships, the majority of athletes qualify for entry by placing high in their age group divisions at one of 24 international Ironman qualifying races. Two hundred athletes win spots in the race through the Ironman lottery. This year, an additional 20 entries were auctioned off on eBay.
Each of the local athletes spoke about the road to Kona and their hopes and goals for the race.
Frank works 24-hour shifts as a nurse at Dominican Hospital and her bicycle was stolen this summer. Somehow those challenges didn’t derail her training for her second Hawaii Ironman race. Her workouts included biking 60-100 miles a week, including six-hour rides, running four to five times a week, including two-hour runs and swimming four times a week for up to two hours.
“When I started racing triathlons 15 years ago, I said, ‘There is no way I would do the Ironman,'” recalled Frank. But gradually, that mindset changed for the four-time Boston marathon finisher. “The Ironman is such a personal challenge. I never thought I could do something like that. Completing the race two years ago was a huge boost of confidence.”
The Hawaii Ironman is just the warmup for Frank, who will compete in two other world championship triathlon events after Kona: the Xterra World Championships, an offroad triathlon, in Maui (Santa Cruz resident Laura Home is also competing) and then the Olympic distance world championships in New Zealand, Dec. 6. She will remain in New Zealand to compete in another Ironman there in March.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” admitted Frank. Yet she finds it all worthwhile: “When you set a personal goal for yourself and you can actually accomplish it, you say, ‘If I can do that, what can I do in other aspects of my life?”
Moss was invited to race with the professional triathletes as part of the special 25th anniversary of the Hawaii Ironman. The event launched with 15 competitors in 1978 and Moss made her now-famous debut in ’82.
“I was motivated to come back to Kona,” said Moss, who last raced the Ironman distance in 2000. She has attended the Kona championships nearly every year, as a racer, an NBC-commentator and alongside her former husband, legendary triathlete Mark Allen, famous for winning the race six times.
“I feel like this is the end of my career in Hawaii,” said Moss, a media and fitness consultant. “This race will serve as a springboard to promote lifestyle fitness for women, especially those over 40.”
Moss knows the race is a mental battle. “You have to go inside and troubleshoot and problem solve to get though it psychologically. We all have those peaks and valleys.”
Moss gets through the valleys by keeping her caloric intake steady and maintaining a sense of humor. “It’s a magical setting, very intense. There are so many people with so many expectations.”
Osterlund knows what to expect on her second time around at Kona. Last time, she got so sick on the run, that she barely made it from one aid station to the next, yet she still finished in 13 hours. With only three full seasons of triathlon under her belt, Osterlund is excited to go back for a second shot at Kona. She credits her personalized training with Mark Allen for getting her to the start line. “He knows what I can do. He keeps me safe from injury and totally motivated,” said Osterlund in a phone interview from Hawaii. She also is grateful for the Santa Cruz triathlon community for inspiration. “We take our triathlon community for granted, but we are so lucky. My goal is to get to the finish line. I have worked on visualizations and mediations. When I get really unnerved, I sing anything that pops into my head.”
The youngest of the Santa Cruz quartet, Grant will compete in the 18-24 year old age group after only a year and a half of training in triathlons. When her boyfriend, triathlete Barnaby Clark, urged her to try triathlon, she protested, “I don’t know how to swim, I don’t own a bike,” said the Aptos High and UCSC-cross country runner.
“You start training and the idea grows on you,” said Grant was hooked after she won her age group at a mountain bike triathlon. She worked up to winning her first Ironman in Wisconsin in fall of 2002. That race landed her the coveted Ironman spot.
“A month after Wisconsin, I was out on a training ride with a friend in Capitola Village. I was hit by a car. I had a broken collarbone, severe head injury with three brain bruises and I was in intense pain in my neck and back.” That injury required eight months of healing. She was off her bike for six months. That could have been the end of her triathlon career, but she was again encouraged by her family and boyfriend.
“It took me a long time to be able to want to compete. I bought a new bike again and started training again this April.” She tested herself by doing an ironman race: “I was in a lot of pain, but I stuck it out mentally. I felt good about it. I know how badly it’s going to hurt (in Hawaii.)”
It is hard for some to understand why she would want to do the event after such a debilitating accident.
“I spent a year of my life training for this event. It is a lifestyle you have to maintain. On race day, such a flush of emotions go through you. You feel everything that day, hating it, loving it, crying, feeling good about yourself. It’s a very emotional sport and emotional event.
“When you’re done, you feel so proud of yourself that you met your goal. At the end, I say I did something that mattered to me and that was a huge part of my life. ”
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