We met on a very lonely stretch of highway in Kona Hawaii 3 years ago.
October 2009...I was a "rookie" so to speak. My "initiation" at the Ironman World Championships was to stay awake long enough to adopt an athlete. That meant heading outside of town a few miles and choose an athlete who was in need of a reminder that they could make it to that finish line before midnight. Not nearly as challenging as actually doing the race... right?
The recession was upon us... and the Queen K highway street lights were all dark except 1... every quarter mile. His figure was the only thing I could make out in the distance. This 79 year old physicist from Oregon was after his 20th Ironman finish here in Kona and although his feet were tired, his wit was unwavering.
If my watch was true, he was going to need to pick up the pace a little if he wanted to earn that title once again. As an incentive...I reminded him that just a few days ago I was running around in my underpants at the annual "underpants run"... and really... there wasn't much I wasn't willing to do to make sure he crossed that finish line before midnight. He chuckled and told me "we don't have enough time for that sweetheart!"
We laughed our way through the next mile and turned onto Alii Drive as the resounding cheers lifted his worn shoes and spirits and carried him down that finish shoot just 7 minutes before midnight.
I never saw Lew again.
October 2010...One year later, I'm once again at baggage claim at the Kona airport. I overhear rumblings that there's an 80 year old competing this year, and he's got his age group all to himself. I know it's got to be Lew. Facebook pulls up a guy by the name of Lew Hollander so I befriend him and shoot him a message. It's his son, who puts me in touch with his dad. Just a few hours later I'm on my way to see him... this time in daylight. I humbly explain that I ran out to find someone, hoping to motivate them to the finish line, but instead came home motivated to get myself to an Ironman finish line... He laughed and says he's glad I actually exist. Last year had been a tough one for him and he wasn't entirely sure he hadn't made me up!
Thankfully, he asked if we could meet up again for our "date" at mile 24. I was ecstatic. Closely following his splits all day, I had naively planned to meet him between 11 and 11:30pm again. Silly me. He was averaging an entire HOUR faster... despite being one year older.
10:30pm arrived and so did Lew at our annual meeting place...mile 24...2.2 to go.
I jokingly told him that I couldn't run with him... clearly he wasn't struggling... I was supposed to be out here helping those in need... He asked me to join him for at least a little while. Not 5 minutes went by and a convertible with a camera crew rolls up alongside us. He informed me it was the NBC crew. They had been to his house in Bend Oregon to film his preparation for this big race and had popped in on him throughout the day. I offered to step out so he could enjoy the spotlight and he said "oh no! wait till they get a load of this... the old guy... gets the hot chick!" 2010 was a good race year for Lew...
The first year I met Lew I thought, if he can do this, I should be able to as well. I vowed to complete that same distance... 140.6 miles. The second year I ran with Lew, I still hadn't lived up to my word. This year, I vowed to make good on my promise so that if/when I saw him on that lonely stretch of the Queen K I could pound that pavement with a newfound understanding.
October 2011....I shot him a text 2 days before the race. No response. Not everybody texts. I called and he answered.
"Is this Lew Hollander"
"I sure hope so!"
"This is Ann Wessling"
"I'm the blond girl who comes out and runs with you."
"Oh yeah... I remember you. Are you here this year?"
"I am. Would you mind if I joined you again?"
"Sure, but it's going to be late. probably 16:20. I had a rough year"
"I wouldn't miss it Lew"
"Great. See you out there"
For our crew and family and friends, working, heck even spectating this race is exhausting. After we had done our work for the day, our editors went back to start putting it all together and I saddled up with my computer to keep an eye on Lew's split times which would help me gauge when to head out for our "date". I was getting text messages from people who were out on the finish line welcoming more athletes, but I was glued to my computer waiting for updates. It finally came. Lew was right on track. I headed out of town and out on the blacktop. Only this year... they left a few more lights on for us :)
Right on cue... the most strapping 81 year old appeared.
With camera crews in tow... of course.
It wasn't long before more and more people were asking... are you Lew?
We shook the Paparazzi for a few moments so I could snap a picture. But it seemed Lew's affect on me, had had the same affect on the whole world.
I caught a few minutes of our run on video. It was about the only thing I could do, since the waterworks drown out most of my intelligible conversation :)
I'm not sure I ever told him I did that race I promised I would do... but who the hell cares... He's done 22 of these suckers, is the oldest person to ever complete this race... and now he's the 2 time defending champ in his age group (this year there were 4 competitors!)
... and doesn't he look good doing it :)
I think maybe I have a little more work to do before I can gloat about it to him! ha