When I tell people I was a triathlete back in the mid-to-late 1980's, they always throw me in with true pioneers like Tinley, Moss, Warren, etc. I don't belong there, I was part of the next wave—I was what they spawned. Though ignominious, I did have an important contribution to the covered wagon era...I was first generation Tri Geek!—the first seduced—junkies, lusting for inclusion to a sexy, shiny new sport. However painful to observe, we were born of the oh-so-true, "...sincerest form of flattery" maxim. Tri Geek, along with "poser" and "wannabe," is stamped into the sport's lexicon. Without "the geek," the sport might not exist.
Yes, I was the sore thumb that turned heads for all the wrong reasons: the natty hacker who tees it up in front of the marker. I showed up to the UCSD Masters program, where the sport's elite swam, with all the gall of an American Idol contestant whose mother just didn't have the heart to tell her li'l pumpkin he sucked. Unfortunately for me a fellow named Murphy Reinshreiber didn't possess such inhibition. That first day I rode up to the pool (I read pros did that) on my hundred-fifty dollar racing machine, Murphy, an Olympic caliber butterfly guy, and part of the in-crowd, undressed me with a "cat-that-sniffed-something-stinky" stare. He didn't stop there...he dirty-eyed my bike as well.
His obvious disapproval translated to—"Who's this fool?" Being prone to hyper-sensitivity; my back was now up. On the inside I was that schizophrenic in the crosswalk, engaged in a frightful, three-way conversation. Only days from my 29th birthday and a decade removed from part-time high school running, here I was, thinking I could take up swimming and cycling from scratch and win the Ironman. Yes, Win! Murphy had poked me where I lived. I was pissed.
Now, further daunted, I straggled out to the pool deck in my first ever Speedo. Until this day, I'd only seen Euro dudes wear one without shame. There in front of me stood the sublime Scott Tinley and Mark Allen -- unmatched visions of fitness. Draped around them, a gaggle of near-naked peacocks in full bloom, proudly flaunting their own perfection. I slunk down to lane 10. I would've gone to lane 11 if there was one.
A half-decade spent in professional golf rewarded me with a set of not-so-perky starter-girls, ancillary motivation for my quest: I was in no hurry to disrobe. Waiting till the last possible second, I ingloriously stained the landscape with a nappy, stale-parmesan white physique...hands clasped—shyly shrouding the boys.
Standing alone above my lane, I was approached by a woman with a distinct waddle, clearly in her late third trimester. I had been saved. No longer would I be the slowest person in the pool, nor would my profile hold the most interest.
What came next was ugly. I was about to suffer my own inevitable, "geek tragedy;" the ghastly moment when fantasy and reality plow head-on, leaving a mangled, bloody heap. The unthinkable was now upon me: quitting my job, estranging my family, self-inflicting poverty and moving to San Diego to "win" the Ironman might just be folly.
The first set was 10x100. I barely finished—started at two minutes per 100 and backed it down from there. With each bruising stroke, breathing became more difficult with sweaty water gushing down my throat. The hydro dynamically challenged lane mate was lapping me—breathing for two! Across the pool I could see Allen and Tinley effortlessly walking over water. Halfway through the workout, completely spent, I pitifully went home to continue my crosswalk chat—still furious at that Murphy guy.
Albeit more prickly, I showed up...again...and again...and again, never missing a workout. I would tell you improvement came slowly, but that would be a lie. Perhaps it was Mr. Nasty face that propelled me—I left a rooster-tail to the fast lane. Twelve months from my arrival I was swimming with Tinley and Allen. Not long after, the great Linda Buchanan mandated that I razor up and lose the lint—and "for God's sake please stop wearing underwear under your bike shorts." It seems panty lines were just not acceptable in triathlon. Who knew?
One year and 10 months after being publicly pants-ed, I crossed the finish line at the 1986 Hawaii Ironman in 11th place overall with the third fastest marathon of the day. The following year when the world rankings were released, my now dear friend and icon of the sport, Murphy Reinshreiber, gave me the news—I was eighth on the list, just behind The Terminator, Scott Molina. Ultimately, I left the sport as an unfulfilled novice with only 19 races to my credit, but my passage was complete—I was no longer a Tri Geek.
Jay Larson enjoyed a short but successful foray into elite triathlons. Born in the SoCal foothills of San Bernardino, he imagined himself near the top of the mid 80's heap and made a dent with wins at regional events such as the Huntington Beach Triathlon, Muncie Bud Light Endurathon, and the fabled Tug's Swim-Run-Swim. Realizing he'd never pay the rent from triathlon, Larsen returned to his native sport, golf where at 58 years old he recently made the finals of a Champion's Tour Qualifying event. He continues to work in the golf industry and still holds the world speed golf record for a 6000 yard, 18 hole course. Larsen shot a 72 in 39 minutes and 55 seconds. This is his first contribution to trihistory.com.