Ironman Memory

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The sports world is awash with rich storylines this week. The baseball playoff season has kicked off with the Minnesota Twins willing their way out of their Metrodome and into Yankee Stadium with the nail-biting drama of perhaps the greatest regular season-ending game in baseball history. That same town, Minneapolis St. Paul thrilled to two phantasmagoric nights in one week when, just 24 hours before the Twins won their do-or-die, one-game showdown with the Tigers, the Minnesota Vikings lit up the town with their own fireworks. The debate over Brett Favre --- is he washed up at 40 or can he still commandeer an NFL offense --- was silenced as the Vikings fans went berserk with Favre's every bullet-accurate pass. Yes, the Favre debate is officially over.

The Olympic Games for 2016 didn't go to Chicago, but to Rio de Janeiro and that was the right decision. The Games are supposed to be a worldwide representation of the spirit of sport and yet no country from either the continent of South America nor Africa have ever been chosen to host. The party is raging down in Rio and it's about time.

Yet despite all these energized sports scenes this week, I can't help flashing back some thirty years to one of the most compelling moments I've ever witnessed at a sporting event.

This Saturday the grueling Ironman Triathlon takes place on the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii. In the early days of that race, I was a cub reporter for ABC Sports, assigned to cover the few maverick athletes who imagined themselves through those 100°:-plus lava fields, decades before replenishing goos, ergonomic handle bars, and one-piece lycra tri-suits. Our crew had interviewed all the contenders before the 1982 race. In passing, we had met the girlfriend, Julie Moss, of one of the top men. Moss hadn't seriously trained but decided to give the long day a try, simply because she was there. For Moss, it was a lark, even though she was at least half aware that it might be a painful lark.

Well, she made it through the 2.4-mile ocean swim. She toughed out the 112 miles along the scorching asphalt of the bike portion.

And about half way through the 26.2-mile marathon run, a water station aide's words drifted through her delirium and she thought she heard "first woman." Surely they weren't referring to her. The next water station came up a couple of miles down the road and the aide there again shouted out "first woman" when Moss passed through. She was in a daze, barely hanging on. She was weak and nauseous. In her depleted state, a self-described weekend athlete was suddenly leading one of the most prestigious endurance events in the world.

With four miles to the end, the sun setting, her legs failing, Moss started to cramp severely. Her muscle fibers gripped in spasms, to the point that she fell to the ground and struggled like a newborn giraffe to rise again. Eyes semi-delirious, semi-determined, she wobbled down the road. The story spread, the crowds grew to 20-deep along the final stretch. Nobody was allowed to touch her but they were screaming encouragement. She lost control of her bowels at one point, yet she never lost her dignity. Four hundred meters to go and the soul of sports was on vivid display.

Now Moss could no longer stand up. Her eyes glazed toward the finish line tape. Thousands were screaming for her to get there. She literally crawled those last few minutes on her hands and bloodied knees. A few scant feet from the finish line and another rookie named Kathleen McCartney, herself exhausted and only semi-coherent, came swooping toward the line and stepped over this lump beneath her to win the race. Just moments later, Moss was second. Julie Moss will never forget that incredible day of courage and resolve. Neither will I.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.



Diana Nyad