Triathlon Actually Began Where?

By Debbie
September 18, 2013 on 1:01 pm | In Community, Races, Random Musings, Sponsorship | 1 Comment

This fun blog brought to you by Team TriSports athlete Scott Perrine, who is about to compete at the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe.

All history ties the roots of Triathlon back to San Diego, CA in the early 1970s, but after spending the last two years in the San Francisco Bay, and on Alcatraz Island completing some concrete restoration work, I believe Triathlon may actually have its roots tied to Alcatraz.  There is even a Triathlon named Escape from Alcatraz which I competed in this year.

Escape from Alcatraz triathlon

Not possible you say?  A simple look at the history of Alcatraz and the attempted escape of John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, Frank Morris and Allen West shows many similarities to Triathlon and multi sport.  While a prison escape is obviously not a sport, there is a lot of preparation and dedication required for both, even some failed attempts along the way.

Start with the preparation.  John, Clarence, Frank and Allen began their planning and preparation in September of 1961, eight months before their attempted escape.  They spent every minute allowable planning and working towards their escape.  Many of us that race long course competition dedicate eight months or more to training.  We focus and plan for the event, training for the worst and hoping for the best.  We spend countless hours focused on that specific event, sacrificing time with friends and family, sleep, etc.

They created tools to chip away at the concrete in their cells; we continually develop new “aero” equipment to make us go faster.  They designed wetsuits utilizing raincoats to survive the swim through the San Francisco Bay; we continually develop wetsuits utilizing the latest technologies in neoprene to get us through the water faster.

The first leg of the escape "triathlon"?

The night of their escape they crawled through the openings they dug in their cells, climbed up through the service corridor to the roof and out to the Northeastern side of the Island and jumped into the water, that is a lot to go through just to go jump in the water.  At the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, you get up early in the morning and head to the race site, set up your transition, get onto a crowded bus and ride over to the ferry, crowd onto the ferry and head over to the Island, then everyone jumps off the ferry and off you go.  Adrenaline is racing as you jump off the boat, imagine what is was like for the guys that night in 1962.

They jumped into the water in the darkness of night during the incoming tide, fighting the currents and the cold.  Some of their belongings were found washed up on the Shore of Angel Island the next morning.  We jumped into the water during the early hours of the morning sunrise with an outgoing tide, had to cross three different current flows (as well as fight all the other competitors) and a majority of us swam (some washed up) onto the Shore in front of the St Francis Yacht Club.

The image of freedom

A few other similarities:

  1. Allen West was unable to fit through the hole he had dug into the wall of his cell and never made it out to meet up with the other three.  The first DNS (Did Not Start)?
  2. The other three were never found.  The first DNF… we will never know?
  3. The FBI closed their case against the three 17 years after they escaped.  In Ironman competition they close the finish line after 17 hours?

While the original Escape from Alcatraz was not a triathlon in any true sense of the meaning and I have taken some great liberties tying them together, it is fun to compare true history to activities we enjoy in our daily lives.  What triathlons have you done where you can intertwine history with the event in this type of manner?  Give it a try and see how creative you can be…. It will definitely help you get through some of those “dark holes” we sometimes go through during our training and racing!

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