From the moment the starting gun is fired on Kona’s sandy beach at the Ironman World Championship, triathletes have 17 hours to cross the finish line. It’s a feat marking the ultimate achievement in the sport. Seventeen compelling stories allow you to experience the competition first hand, revealing tremendous athleticism, unbelievable capacity for suffering, and true strength of character. Some will become champions, some will overcome all odds just to finish, only to come back and do it again. Triathlon’s most dynamic heroes are candidly portrayed in 17 Hours to Glory, a book that puts no limits on the possibilities of the human spirit.
“Winning means reaching the Finish—reaching
the Finish means winning.”
Ask anyone familiar with the early days of Ironman
about the race’s signature image, and they will all mention
the same thing. Not winners in fowered leis. Not swimmers
churning through Kailua Bay. Not cyclists bent over their bikes like
insects moving across the sun-baked lava felds. The image in everyone’s
head is that of Julie Moss crawling to the fnish line. Moss’s
never-give-up determination to reach the ribbon embodied the
defning ethos of the endurance athlete, and in her Ironman debut
she was immediately embraced as a full-fedged member of the tri
pantheon. Surprisingly, though, Moss was only an accidental triathlete.
At heart she was a surfer.
In 1981 Julie Moss was studying physical education at California
Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo when she met lifeguard
Reed Gregerson at a Carlsbad beach. Gregerson had caught
the bug of the new sport of triathlon, which had originated in nearby
San Diego, and he was talking about competing at the Ironman
Hawaii, then three years old.
Her curiosity piqued, Moss tuned in to the ABC broadcast of the
1981 event, which had just moved from Oahu to the lava felds on the
Big Island of Hawaii. As she watched triathletes struggle in the heat
and wind, she was intrigued. “I remember Scott Molina collapsed,
and Olympic cyclist John Howard looked strong on the bike but awkward
on the run as he won the thing. But I do not remember seeing a
woman. I thought it was both compelling and ridiculous at the same
time. And it had parts I could relate to, like the swim in the ocean
and the marathon. Afterward Reed contacted a friend and started
training for it, and all of a sudden it looked like a doable thing.”
Moss had been a desultory high school athlete. “I liked being
part of the basketball and volleyball teams for social reasons,” she
said, “but I didn’t want anybody to throw me the ball. I didn’t like
Although she disliked the spotlight in team sports, her surfing
played a crucial role in the development of her self-reliance
and courage. “When I was in college I paddled out at a secret break in central
California near a spot called Killers. There were really big sets, and as
I tried to push through I was thinking, I may get washed up on the rocks,
and I might not get out of this one. This was a situation where I had to
rely completely on myself, and I managed to survive.”
And so, with her new boyfriend, Gregerson, Moss was drawn
into long bike rides and running to go with her surf-honed swim.
Ever practical, Moss decided to kill two birds and write her senior
thesis on training for and competing in the Ironman, then held in
February each year. A self-described “born procrastinator,” she put
off the start of a training regimen until the clock was about to burst,
relying on her belief that “you do your best work under pressure.”
So it wasn’t until September 1981, with the February 1982 race a
scant five months off, that her training got seriously under way with
a half-iron-distance triathlon in Santa Barbara. The triathlon went
well, but she received a dose of reality in December when at mile
20 of the Oakland Marathon she experienced the phenomenon that
marathoners refer to as hitting the wall and dropped well off her
sub-3:30 pace. With her self-confidence hurting, she penciled in a
second marathon just three weeks later in Mission Bay.
But first, less than two months before the Ironman—on
Christmas Eve, no less—Gregerson broke up with her. “I was devastated
and would not have done the event if I didn’t have to finish
my thesis to graduate,” said Moss. “My mom was single and raised
us on a teacher’s salary. She had paid for my college, and I owed that
much to her to finish.” Cornered by her commitment to graduate,
she decided she was doing the race for herself and plunged ahead.
Paperback. Color photo section, B&W photos throughout.