Triathlete Dave Young commands attention when he walks into a room. As a former Colonel in the Marine Corp and a Naval Academy graduate, that’s not unusual. Tall with a huge barrel chest that gives away his home sport of swimming, he is a focused man with a gentle smile.
He’s visited, worked, or lived throughout most of the world, 17 countries in Europe, and eight in Asia. Three others were throughout the Caribbean.
“When you’ve lived almost 66 years you see a lot of stuff – wonderful amazing stuff!” he says.
But he’s also accomplished a lot, as well, and as a result he tells some great stories.
For example, he was the race director for the Marine Corp Marathon back when it was named the Marine Corp Reserve Marathon in 1979. The race is a hugely popular run held every fall.
“For the first two years the reserve section at headquarters put on the race essentially out of a shoebox, but grew it to over a couple thousand . Because the growth, planning, and preparation were taking a lot of the section’s time, the event was passed over to the Marine Barracks [a Marine company] in 1978.” The CO (Commanding Officer) picked Dave to lead it because of his past running experience.
“I was scheduled to be transferred out of the ceremonial unit but when the Commanding Officer of the Barracks received this new mission he looked around for runners and his gaze landed on me. I had run the JFK 50 Mile Race a couple of years in row. So he tasked me and another Marine captain to take over the planning and preparation of the marathon. I told the CO that I ran marathons, ultras, which was quite different from organizing a marathon. His point was at least you know what one was.”
My transfer was cancelled and Jim Burke and I put on the 1979 Marine Corps Marathon (notice the name change). Legalistically the Commanding Officer was the Race Director but Jim and I were the assistants even though the CO only blessed decisions and had little to do with the planning or organization.
It is now referred to as “The People’s Marathon” as we did not pay elites to run in the race. Not sure if that is still true. I think they get 30,000 now and sells out in a couple of hours. I still have a complete race packet with bib, #1979 for the year, MCM patch, and t-shirt with mimeographed instructions. Fee, $7.00. We were not allowed to accept any sponsor money. That has all changed.”
His experience since then paid off because for the past three years he has worked for GET RACING.ORG and Race Chip Timing, helping put on runs and triathlons. He’s timed and scored numerous road races, designed road race courses for various organizations, measured courses for USA Track & Field, coordinated the efforts of volunteers, and organized the equipment and crews to time multiple events on weekends. Both companies have been bought by The Frisco Running Company. “It is planned that I will continue to do the same sort of work.”
This kind of coordinating is not new to him. As a Marine he commanded everything from an infantry platoon to a Marine Expeditionary Unit of about 2000+ Marines and sailors. In the business world, he was the Chief Operating Officer for a public company that executed mergers and acquisitions, and took companies public on the NASDQ. “For a while I partially owned and managed a swim shop in Plano. For a time I managed one of the largest contracts Wal-Mart has ever had converting their stores across the country to energy efficient lighting.”
Born April 16, 1949 in Washington, DC, he started swimming competitively at the age of five after a swim coach walked by him “splashing around in the pool.” He was a happy go-lucky and friendly kid. “He turned to my mother and told her, ‘He needs to be on a swim team.’” The local league had an age group for 5 and 6 year olds. “I had never had swim lessons.” Swim lessons were beyond the scope of his parents’ income with six kids.
Later, he was one of the best 12 yr. olds in the country in 1960-61 with a goal of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. As a young prodigy with the phrase “’Chlorine is my perfume,” his world was consumed with swimming. It’s who he was and what he wanted to be. His best time for 50 yards was 21.5 seconds.
In college he was swimming 30,000 to 35,000 yards per week. With so much time in the water, Dave thinks primarily about his technique. “Practices were two hours each day and sometimes twice a day.” That would change for Dave once he discovered the bike and run of triathlons.
Dave cites Coach Jim Rucker as his biggest influence in the pool, getting him started in his early years. Second is Dave’s mother, “throughout her life,” he says. This swim background helped him a lot later on for triathlons.
“I don’t remember much of my first swim meet. I was five. They told me to swim hard until I got to the wall. I won but do not remember when or where.”
Dave easily equates a scene from the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” that involves Windex, to his passion for swimming. Namely, it fixes everything.
“In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding the father of the bride has this passion about Windex fixing everything. He sprays it on any hurt place with expectant delight. Swimming, for me, fixes everything. When I feel sick, I think a good swim will make me better. A good swim is cleansing, both externally and to the soul. I also know I will be able to swim forever when certain other activities might become more challenging.”
His preferred swim gear? A Speedo Endurance Brief or Nike Swim Poly Core Solid Brief, either in black. “The operative word is BRIEF! It is all I have ever worn since I was 5. Jammers, baggy swim shorts are like wearing parachutes to swim and males who wear them look silly and effeminate. If anyone wants to make a comment about my briefs, they are invited into the lane next to me so I can show them why I have earned the right to look like a swimmer.”
Growing up with four brothers (two have already passed on) and one sister made for a crowded household. “I was the best behaved. I used to win the contest all the time when my father was out-of-town.” Today, he has five children of his own (one son, four daughters), and eight grandchildren.
Other than swimming, Dave also participated in scouts and school growing up. Interestingly enough, he began a newspaper route for The Washington Post when he was 5, he says, waking up at 4:15 a.m. until he was 18. Then, he joined the Marine Corp and was up every day at 4:15 for reveille. Today, he’s up at 4:15 every day for Master’s Swim coaching.
While excelling in swimming, he was in a life changing car wreck at the age of 12.
“I went through a windshield as a result of my brother and I being put to sleep by carbon monoxide seeping up into the car we were riding in. We hit an abandoned car coming home from the East Coast National Swimming Championships.”
The result was 150 stitches in my face, massive blood loss, and a shattered kneecap. He lived only because of the best shape he was in. Also as a result of the accident, he suffered a great deal with pain and headaches, “and the loss of my swimming dreams.” He also had a growing cyst in his left tibia that eventually resulted in bone graft surgery. “There is now about a 9″ scar in the ankle area and no return of the cyst,” he is happy to say.
“I spent a few years being bitter about what life had dealt me. I am not proud of this time. There is no hero story here. I did not come back from my adversity and overcome my injuries to go for the gold. That came much later after the Marines got a hold of my attitude. I just struggled with trying to answer the old loser’s lament: ‘Why me?’”
He believes swimming or being in shape saved his life in that accident in 1961. “It continues to give me a quality of life most of my contemporaries do not enjoy. I am on no medication. I am not being treated for any age-related afflictions. I get away with appearing much younger than I am and, most importantly, feeling younger, thus the gift of a fiancée who is 17 years younger than I.”
Because of the car accident, his swimming was at times non-existent for the next three crucial developmental years in an athlete’s life. But timing and history stepped in to give him another focus: the 100th anniversary of the Civil War.
“During that time I became a big Civil War buff, collected artifacts and read everything. I also taught myself leatherworking, since my mobility was limited by being on crutches, and made several pieces that I gave to members of my family as gifts. I had a penny coin collection. I was a voracious reader, mostly because my mother read a lot also. I also loved movies, the epic ones: Ben-Hur, Spartacus, The Great Escape, Mutiny on the Bounty, El Cid, Lawrence of Arabia, King of Kings, The Longest Day, etc.”
Dave grew up in Bladensburg, then Cheverly, Maryland – both are suburbs of Washington, DC. He attended Bladensburg High School graduating in 1967.
The capital was his backyard and playground until he joined the Marines at 18.
While in high school, he was part of a folk group that played local hootenanies in the Washington DC area from 1963-1967. “We styled ourselves after the Kingston Trio with matching button down shirts usually with vertical stripes, but were not opposed to doing Peter Paul and Mary, Ian and Sylvia, the New Christy Minstrels, The Seekers, and others’ songs.” They also played at the school assemblies and would write songs for the annual school fund raisers. He played the four string tenor guitar and tambourine. “We also had a 12 string guitar, a six string, and a banjo to round out the sound.” He doesn’t play anymore, he says. “Back then I wish we had a harmonica player for some of the more bluesy folk songs and learning to play the harmonica remains on my bucket list to this day.” There’s a black and white photo of Dave and another band mate playing guitars.
Out of high school and after a couple of years in the Marine Corp, he was sent to the U.S. Naval Academy where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1973. Much later he graduated from the Naval War College (1992) and received his MBA from Regis University (2002).
But after his graduation from high school (1967) and the Naval Academy (1973), the country was experiencing a tumultuous time of violence, riots, protests, and anti-war sentiment.
Dave’s decision to enter the military was not a popular choice at the time, with people burning draft cards for an unpopular war at an all-time high. Dave laughs when he says his enlisting was a protest against the protesters. “I just figured I’d go to Vietnam and get killed. That was my plan.”
Dave’s parents were involved with the government at high levels. While his dad worked for the Federal Housing Administration (renamed the Department of Housing and Urban Development) as an accountant, his mom worked for Pres. John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy (both assassinated), and Senator Barry Goldwater as a secretary. Her final post was with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Making a career with the military scarred him by way of moving. Changing addresses and moving house and home scared him as a kid. That’s ironic, he says, because he moved his own kids on the average of every 18 months.
His own regime calls for him to swim, bike, and run three times a week, each. But,… “Currently falling short of that. Have to kick it back in gear as the future is getting closer and I am not getting any younger.”
Dave has finished 16 Ironman triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 run), but started 18. One of those he didn’t finish was in Wales.
“Broken ribs, stitches and severe abrasions sustained in a crash at a 70.3 Half Ironman triathlon in Galway, Ireland, in early September, 2011, would only allow me to complete the swim and the bike seven days later at the first Ironman Wales. My stitches had been kicked open during the swim and my bandages had filled up with blood and the pain was causing me to make bad decisions so I had to drop out after the bike. With the broken ribs, I was going to have to walk and by the time I came off the bike I knew I did not have enough time.” But optimistic as ever, “both races were still such an awesome experience!”
The other Ironman triathlon he had to drop out of was “Just pure lack of training,” he says. “I thought my reputation and my history would allow me to finish an Ironman. After two miles on the run I knew I was not going to make the cutoff. I knew in my mind I had not done the work to deserve to even be in the race. It was a good lesson in humility.”
Dave’s quite sure however, that he’s finished between 250-300 multi-sport events. He did 51 in 2009 alone. His Ironman finishes include: California 2000, Florida 2004/2005/2006, Arizona 2006/2007, China 2008, Cozumel 2009/2010/2011/2012/2013/2014, Texas 2011, and Wales 2012.
Some of his favorites are:
“Redman Ironman Triathlon is still a top premier event in my book. I liked putting on Tri For Humanity, but it never really made much money with 250 participants. Mostly I like small races where the participants are largely first timers and I can vicariously share the joy they experience at finishing their first triathlon. River Cities Triathlon used to be a favorite but it starts too late and the older people are put in later waves which puts us on the road with the church-goers who are inevitably late for their meeting and are less than gracious sharing a narrow backcountry Louisiana road.”
“U.S.A. Triathlon has a Century Club and I have been researching for a number of years what races I have done. Some of the earlier time segments did not have T1 and T2 [first transition from the swim to the bike, and the second transition from the bike to the run]. We did not know to call them that, T1 and T2. So the swim time and transition is included as the swim and likewise the bike and transition to the run are included as the bike split.”
What’s he do to inspire himself to get up and get out the door to train or race so much, day after day? “Fear!” He has the fear of looking bad, feeling worse, and performing even worse at races. “Great motivators,” he says.
He has a small clutch of others he trains with known as The Breakfast Club. It includes TRACY HARRISON, MICHELLE HUDDLESTON, TERRY JENNY, JIMMY SMITH and LAEL MARTIN. Other training partners include KATHY WILLIAMS, TODD SCHMIDT, and ERIN POOLE. “Lately, coaching has forced me into training by myself. I do run with my fiancée [KRISTI HENDERSON] and I let her get a little ahead because that is a treat and a motivator to run behind her.”
He and Kristi will be married this May. She is from McKinney.
The tall man with the barrel chest is imposing in stature and has some impressive personal records (PRs). At the Ironman triathlon, his first one was his fastest at 11:58:08. That was at the famous February 1982 Hawaii Ironman where Julie Moss collapses within feet and crawls to the finish line, as another competitor passes her and finishes first overall. “I finished shortly after the famous scene.”
His 2.4 mile swim time was a very good 52 minutes. “My run was 3:58:15. The bike was probably close to 6:45:00.
“The sardonic comment here is that back then we had steel bikes, no aero bars, no race wheels, no power bars, no knowledge of electrolytes and certainly no concept of how to train for an endurance event, [even still] it was my fastest time.”
He remembers the days before PowerBars, aero bars, and Gu were so ubiquitous, when there were no triathlon coaches, videos, or manuals. The sport was new and exciting as a new frontier for athletics and athletes. No longer did one have to be confined to just one sport. No longer did one have to be identified as only a runner, or a swimmer, or a cyclist. One could now distinguish themselves in all these disciplines, simultaneously.
“In the early days QUANTITY was everything in training for an Ironman. We all thought we had to do what [multi-Ironman champions] Dave Scott and Scott Tinley were doing. Weekly totals that used to get thrown around were 14,000 yd. in the swim, 300 miles on the bike and 65-75 miles running per week. Leading up to my first Ironman I was probably pretty consistent with the 14,000 yd. swim a week, usually came close to the 300 miles on the bike, but rarely got above 50 miles running on a weekly basis.
My thinking now is 9-12,000 [meters in the water] is plenty for getting ready for an Ironman swim and then only during the last four weeks of preparation.”
While his thoughts on the bike stay centered on bike safety, during his running he says he’s, “solving all my challenges and coming up with a million ideas that promptly leave my head when I return from my run.”
Dave says he rarely goes too hard in the swim anymore as a triathlon swimmer going for distance. “Back when I was a sprinter I went hard.” He says it’s about aerobic effort, now. “If the wetsuit or tri-suit is compressing the chest and preventing full oxygen uptake then I get warned with a panicky feeling.”
Except for the car wreck at the age of 12, all of his injuries were later in life. “You do not have enough print space to cover this subject,” he says with a grin. He’s had three broken collar bones. One eight weeks before the 1983 Hawaiian Ironman, another during the 1986 Bakersfield Triathlon, and a third during a training ride in 1994. Broken ribs? “Too many times to count.” And a broken fibula playing softball two months before the 2010 Long Course World Triathlon Championships in Germany. Bad timing all around, Dave.
Because of the legendary beautiful swim, Dave’s favorite Ironman triathlon is the Cozumel race. The run and bike are “pancake” flat. “The people of the island love us being there. Unlike anywhere else, Cozumel becomes Ironman Island. We are treated so well and they remember us year after year. After the race there is so much to do to relax and recover. ‘Another day in paradise looking for my lost shaker of salt.’”
Locally, Dave has some definite opinions on the swims, triathlons, and runs.
“Swim meets for age group USA Swimming, the state of competition is excellent.” About high school swimming, he only says, “it accomplishes its mission.” Which to Dave is, “serve as an activity, encourage a life-long sport, teach school spirit, disciplined work and leadership. “
Masters swimming: “Understanding the complicated schedules of most older swimmers there is probably the right amount of opportunity to compete for the small percentage of Masters swimmers who choose to do so. …Was that a politically correct answer or what?”
Triathlons: “More than enough to choose from. The ‘consumer’ can pick or judge based on price, venue, organizers and safety.” Finally running. “The market is saturated.” Amen!
He’s been a swim coach for 12 years, working with the Plano Wet Cats, and a triathlon coach for the same amount of time. He says he specializes in “helping people through their first half Ironman or full Ironman distance race. He limits the number he’s training to five at a time, “to make sure it remains very personal and I have the time to address their individual needs.”
Over that time, he’s coached approximately 400 people, adults and kids. When asked about who was easier to coach, he cautiously suggests adults and women. But the easiest are those with the least amount of swimming background because they have “less bad habits embedded in their subconscious that we have to overcome.”
“Because swimming is so technique intensive and the plethora of different aspects of technique that you have to think about while swimming I would say women do better with the multi-tasking aspect. I would not say they are any easier. Women also tend to have a better sense of their body and balance, balance being a critical element of swimming technique.”
“I have never had any problem with adults. They are there to swim for their own reasons and motivation. Kids tend to listen to what I say, must be that Marine ‘command voice.’” He’s patient to a point, he says, “But kids on my summer team will tell you I have no problem disciplining an inattentive kid or one who might be disrespecting a fellow swimmer. My favorite punishment: push-ups until I get tired.”
Dave even gave a formula for disciplining a problem or inattentive kid.
“You have ‘hot stove’ issues. You ‘touch’ these issues and you get ‘burned.’ But not everything needs to be ‘hot.’ Remove the kid out of ear shot of the other kids. Butt-chewings should be done in private. Get the kid’s attention, make him feel the heat of your disappointment with the intensity and volume of your voice and tell him exactly what MUST be corrected. There needs to be the unspoken, dark message in your delivery that some unknown and unarticulated fate awaits them if they continue on this current path. Never threaten unless you are prepared to carry out every aspect of your threat immediately after vocalizing it. Never make any of this personal. It is about behavior that must be corrected. Give some time for the sting of your rebuke and punishment to sink in and then show increased ‘love’ and care. Make the kid know that you still like and respect him/her as a person.”
Currently, Dave is a Chairman for the USA Triathlon South Midwest Region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana). He is the Vice Chair/Registrar for the North Texas Local Masters Swim Committee for US Masters Swimming, and also coaches the Masters Swimming program for Life Time Fitness. He owns and is the head coach for North Texas Masters Swimming (www.ntexmasters.com).
In his rare moments of spare time, Dave is a fan of Texas Hold ‘Em, reading, and movies. “My avocation and my many jobs take up a lot of my time. My fiancée takes up an even larger portion of time.” Oops! Did he really say that?
At the time of this interview he was reading Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand and The Heist, by Daniel Silva.
He attends a local church in McKinney and enjoys a wide variety of restaurants and music. In Dallas he likes Café Madrid, Hibiscus, and Terelli’s. Besides Houston’s in Carrolton, and Little Gus’ Café in Plano for breakfast, there’s also The Taco Diner at the Shops at Legacy and Blue Fish at the Shops at Watters Creek.
Just as wide a variety is his taste in music: classical, rock ‘n roll, Irish pub ballads, new age, folk, “and the list goes on and on.” But he does have artists he’s partial to: Smokey Robinson, Sarah McLachlan, Jimmy Buffet, Loreena McKennitt, John Stewart of the Kingston Trio (wrote “Daydream Believer”), and soundtracks by Hans Zimmer (ABC World News, The Lion King, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, Interstellar, Inception, Man of Steel, Driving Miss Daisy, The Dark Knight trilogy, The Amazing Spider Man, Crimson Tide, 12 Years a Slave, Rush, The Lone Ranger, and all four Pirates of the Caribbean films).
When asked about what he wears when working out, Dave replied, “I am comfort conscious when I work out. When I compete, I follow my personal mantra. ‘If you cannot be fast, look fast!’” He shops on line for these clothes. He says his fiancé, Kristi, is in charge of his public appearance. “Hair, shoes, clothes, etc., I shop where she tells me to shop.”
Though he didn’t have any heroes growing up, today he includes his friends who are parents, spouses, and siblings of service people killed in the line of duty. This includes marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, and police.
“I admire the young enlisted Marines that serve our country and its interests throughout the globe. These are average young men and women who do extraordinary things every day. It was my extreme pleasure to lead them for three decades. They often responded amazingly when I asked them to do more than their best, when I asked them to do what was required.”
Dave wants to complete 20 Ironman triathlons. He’s done 16. He wants to set the world swimming records for the 100-104 age group, and be the oldest person to complete an Ironman. Currently the record is 84 years old.
He wants to compete in his seventh Ironman Cozumel triathlon. He’s on the national team and wants to compete at the Aquathon (swim-run) World Championships this coming September. The following month, he will compete at the Aquathlon National Championships to be held in El Reno, Oklahoma. Also in September is the National Long Course Triathlon Championships at Redman, in Oklahoma. “I am shooting for the national team for Worlds which will be held at the same race in 2016.”
Dave has lived a full life already with more to share and learn. Most of us would be content with just one of his experiences, such as catching a pass from the legendary Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys. “Each year around Thanksgiving the alumni of West Point, Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy meet at the football field at Jesuit High School and play their own inner service school rivalry touch football games.”
He’s met Jack and Robert F. Kennedy (1959), Senator Barry Goldwater numerous times, TV personality Robert Cummings, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Bill Rogers, Cheryl Tiegs, Olympic Champions Wilma Rudolph, Adolph Kiefer, Misty Hyman, and Rowdy Gaines, author Pat Conroy (“Great Santini,” “The Prince of Tides,” “The Water Is Wide”), Donald Conroy – father of Pat, inspiration for the Great Santini (“He was my CO in 1968.”), Ed McMahon, Burton Gilliam (“Blazing Saddles”), Arleigh Burke (aka 31-Knot Burke – distinguished admiral of WWII), Medal of Honor recipients Stephen Pless, Wesley Fox, JJ McGinty, and Louis Wilson, 3-time winner of the Indy 500 Johnny Rutherford, and Harry Cordellos, world class athlete and author who happens to be blind. “There are probably more but they are not coming quickly to mind.”
Under the title “The Best,” Dave wrote out the following.
He has loved and been loved. “It took six decades to find the love of my life.” Has held his newborn children in his arms. Finished the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships three times (1982, 1983, 2000), the 50 mile JFK Marathon five times, graduated from U. S. Marine Corps Recruit Training, graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy with merit, graduated with highest distinction from Naval War College, graduated Magnum Cum Laude earning my MBA from Regis University, CO, retired as a Colonel of Marines after 31 years of service in our Nation’s Marine Corps, and ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
He’s navigated the Amazon River, walked the garden terraces of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, haggled with rug merchants in the souk of Marrakesh, climbed the majestic heights of the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, walked the Great Wall of China, beheld the grandeur of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, watched kangaroos and wallabies hop across the landscape of the outback of Australia, scaled the volcanic sands of Mt. Fuji, sailed the Atlantic, the Pacific, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Caribbean, the Adriatic, traversed the length of the Suez Canal, heard Big Ben strike the hour and sat in Poet’s Corner in the Abbey in London, strolled the Gran Plaz in Brussels, admired the Velazques’ and Rodgrigo’s in Madrid’s Prado, lying on a futon heard the Shinto priests in flowing robes stir the calm of a Kyoto morning with their chants, known the awesome and sometimes awful beauty of the jungles of Asia, and South America, smelled the monkey meat cooking in the markets of Olongapo, dog cooking in Pusan, the dying smell of Somalia; I have fed deer eating out of my hand in Nara, smelled the incense burning in the temples of Kyoto, eaten kimchi in Seoul, Korea, cerviche in Lima, Peru, sheep’s brain in the Plaza Mayor Madrid, eaten oranges in the gardens of Augustus on Capri, squid in Mallorca, Coos Coos in Casablanca, mussels on the island of Ischia, bangers and mash in Inverness, Scotland, savored Luxembergerli at the Confiserie Sprüngli in Zurich, gazed out to sea with the Mermaid on the Rock in Copenhagen, played in Tivoli Gardens, felt midget-like in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, walked the length and width of The Forbidden City in Beijing, passed below the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, rode a gondola on the canals of Venice, fed the pigeons out of my hand in the Piazza San Marco, drove Italy’s Amalfi coast and walked the steep and winding streets of Positano, waded in the Sea of Galilee, River Jordan where Jesus was baptized, strolled the cobbled streets of Jerusalem, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Haifa, has scuba-dived, jumped out of airplanes, rappelled out of helicopters, conducted combat exercises on skis in Norway, been in gun fights in Somalia and Peru seen the breath-taking panorama of the 10,000 terracotta warriors in Xi’an, China, biked around Erhai Lake in Dali, Yunnan Province, China, circumvented Stonehenge in the mist and haze of a cold English September morning, viewed one of four surviving copies of the Magna Carta in the Chapter House of the Cathedral of St. Mary in Salisbury, dipped my fingers in the greenish water of the Roman Baths in Bath, England, photographed sweet Molly Malone in Dublin town across the street from Trinity College, sang with the local Irish tenors in Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, Ireland, found my clan’s colors on display in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, ran the Salthill Promenade in Galway, walked in the footprints of giants at the Giant Causeway in Northern Ireland, wobbled across Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, hiked the Swiss Alps, driven “cray cray” speeds on the German Autobahn, and marveled at the fairytale landscape of Bavaria. “BUT, as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said so eloquently ‘There’s no place like home.’ I hope I haven’t even lived my BEST day yet.”
As he worked on this interview with me, Dave said, it was to remind himself that “In my life, my riches, my wealth are my experiences that came out of me saying ‘Why not!’”
Dave Young’s Fave Moments
As was written earlier in this story, Dave tells some great stories. Four of his favorite moments are mentioned below.
Years back at PrairieMan Half Ironman Triathlon, they started the 50+ age group in the first wave. There were no pros entered, so I came out of the water first and was out on the bike first. All of a sudden there was the lead motorcycle in front of me and I was ‘WINNING’ the entire race. I held on to the lead for a good 10 miles until the 30 year olds in the second wave caught me. So that is what it is like being out in front with the lead motorcycle! I went out too fast as a result of confusing my enthusiasm and temporary glory for actual conditioning and competence.
In my first Hawaii Ironman in February 1982 [before the race was moved to October], there were around 350 competitors who had paid their $100 to compete in the self-proclaimed World Championships. As the swim progressed, suddenly I found myself out in front of everyone. Then there was no one around me as I stroked on. I started having fantasies of ABC Wide World of Sports zeroing in on me and saying my name and having my name splashed across the bottom of the TV screen as the first swimmer out of the water. Oh, what a thrill it was just thinking about that moment until I discovered that I was completely off course and was by myself for a reason. I had a strong right arm pull that made me swim to the left, away from the other swimmers and the turnaround boat. Fantasy gone from my head, I swam frantically to my right to get back with the others. Still swam a 52 minute effort for the 2.4 mile distance. [To break 60 minutes is considered the gold standard at the Ironman swim.] Old records show 1 hour 15 minutes but that includes a very slow transition changing from swim brief to bike clothes. Give me a break; it was only my second transition in my life at that point!
Broken, But Not Stopped
This third moment put me in the category of Ironman Legend. Some might have heard this story but never knew who it was or thought it is just legend, meaning not based on facts.
In 2000 the race director for the Hawaii Ironman allowed me to come back without qualifying to fulfill a promise made to me in 1983.
In October 1983 I did my second Ironman and was one of the first swimmers out of the water and subsequently was one of the victims of the TACK ATTACK. Someone sabotaged the Queen K Highway Ironman bike course with these little carpet tacks that had the desired effect of giving the majority of the leaders flat tires about 10-12 miles into the bike. I got one flat. Others had multiple including John Howard, who had won the 1981 Ironman. After the race, Valarie Silk, the race director, told me I could come back again when I wanted to race Hawaii. It took me 17 years to come back, busy being a father, Marine officer, and husband.
So there I am in October 2000 on the Big Island coming onto Kailua-Kona on my yellow Titan Flex bike. The Titan Flex utilized boom technology like a Soft Ride bike. It has no down seat tube under where you are riding. Essentially you are on a boom that flexes with road surface changes. It is much more comfortable than a conventional road bike frame. The boom on the Titan Flex was made out of titanium. Titanium is strong and lightweight, and not supposed to break.
As I came into town headed for the Kona Surf Hotel (T2) along Ali’i Drive, just after turning left, I went into an aero position and suddenly everything underneath me dropped away. My seat, my tool bag, my bike number, the top tube almost all the way to the main frame, just dropped below me. I looked over my shoulder as I rose to stand on my pedals and brought my hands to the top of the break hoods and saw all of my “stuff” tumbling behind me.
I just kept going now permanently stuck standing up on the pedals. At that point I had about nine miles to go. I couldn’t drink, change gears, and obviously I could not sit down. At the point in the race where you need to rest your quads for the run, I am blowing them up in a big way, especially on hills when I could not change gears. I ask the reader to try and ride standing up for a ¼ mile or 1/10 of a mile and not move your hand position on the brake hoods. Now think about 9 miles.
As the top titanium tube broke away it left a jagged edge that lacerated the inside of my right knee on the next pedal cycle. Blood started flowing and then started flipping up and down the length of my body. By the time I got to T2 I was covered from head to knee with splattered blood. The people waiting to receive my bike at the dismount point looked horrified as I came in and they started screaming for medical.
I assured them it was just a small cut and then ripped off my bike number on my bike shirt and jammed it onto the jagged edge of the top tube so they would know what my bike number was.
Out on the run after a few dousing with cups of water most of the blood was gone but my quads were toast and fried. I had to walk a large part of that Ironman, but finished in about 13 hours.
After crossing the finish line I started looking for my bike parts. Surely, someone turned them in to lost and found since there were hundreds and hundreds of people who saw this happen to me. I wandered around the finish line asking and asking, but no one could tell me a thing. I needed the tool bag to take the rest of my bike apart for my bike box.
On Sunday morning I went to the bike shop and bought some Allen wrenches and then went and got my bike. In T2 everyone was talking about my bike with no seat and top tube. It was a little bit of fame! I was staying at the King K Hotel right by the finish line and the awards banquet was being held [in a couple of hours] in the parking lot of the hotel. I left and found some other local Texans to eat dinner with.
As the program was starting, the race director took the microphone and said before the awards ceremony began they had a special presentation. I turned and looked upon the stage at the big jumbo tron and there held aloft in the hand of the race director was my top tube, my seat, my bike number all in one piece. The audience gasped when they realized what it was and that it must have come off a competitor’s bike. Then she proceeded to call me by name and stated my home town of Plano, Texas, and invited me up on the stage to receive my “trophy.” It was the first standing ovation of the evening.
As I sheepishly returned to my table with my “award” I heard her say I rode 20 miles standing up. I jerked my head around to disagree, but I no longer could be heard. The next day the Ironman website reported it was 20 miles. In the months and years afterwards I have heard people tell me a distorted version of my story not knowing I was the main character in this Polynesian farce. I have heard it get up to 50 miles. While the legend has grown over the years in the retelling, I have to say that 50, even 20 miles is a great story, but nine miles was bad enough.
After dinner as I tried to cross a 300 yard parking lot it took me close to 3 hours to make the short trip to my room. Everyone wanted to see my “trophy” up close and just talk to me and meet me. Andy Warhol described it best in his prediction of the future that “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” My fame at least lasted until the next morning when I met MIKE and MARTI GREER for the first time in the hotel restaurant and they bought me breakfast.
The fourth moment is my favorite and takes place in Hainan, China. For many years number one in my bucket list was visiting China. I had studied China at the Naval Academy. In the 2006-2007 timeframe there was a strong possibility that the Chinese’s government would approve the hosting of an Ironman on their sovereign territory. I spent a couple of years being disappointed with late breaking news that the final approval was “NO.” Finally, for April 2008 it was approved.
Jeff Peng (born in China, but a naturalized citizen of the USA) and I excitedly signed up and began the long process of getting to China and into China. We flew into Shanghai and then flew down to the island of Hainan. We got there a few days early to get accustomed to the high heat and humidity.
The race committee was a hodgepodge of Chinese, Singaporeans, Australians and Kiwis. I went to them and told them that Ironman China was going to be my 10th Ironman and I wanted to do something different and special.
“What did you have in mind?” they quipped.
I want to finish last. Some eye rolls and averted looks and throat-clearing later, I was informed that they could not guarantee that. I told them I knew it was up to me.
The race starts to fireworks on the beach. I am out of the water in roughly 30th place. I then spent the rest of the day working hard to have everyone behind me pass me. I stopped at every bike water stop. Got off and sat in a chair and talked and flirted with the Hawaii shirt garbed female aid station workers. More people passed me. On the run I walked a lot of it, encouraging people behind me to pass me. I stopped for photos and to chat with spectators. Time marched on and more athletes passed.
With about 3.1 miles to go, we had one turn around on a high highway bridge that we had to climb. It was an excellent opportunity to see how many were behind me. I counted five and the public relations female on the race committee near the turnaround confirmed that number. I slowed some more and got two more to pass me. I ran on looking over my shoulder.
With about what I thought was a kilometer (.62 miles) to go, I was looking for places to hide to let the last three folks go by when the same public affairs woman drove up beside me and yelled at me to get going. I whined and pointed back behind me that I was waiting for three people to get on by. She informed me in a shrill voice that they were not going to make it and neither was I. I looked at my watch and knew I could run .6 miles in 7 minutes and proudly told her so. She smugly shot right back at me that I had a mile to go and had better step on it. Panic and fear set in instantly.
I had come 7,450 miles, spent a ton of money, and had stumbled along for 16-plus hours that day, and I was NOT going to be able to finish because I had screwed up my planning? I ran on and I ran fast, adrenaline screaming through my 59 year old veins.
This was a point-to-point run ending in a city park in the city of Haikou and I had never seen the finish line and had no idea where it was. I ran on through the streets of a strange city as the Chinese on the sidewalk yelled encouragement and shouted “Jai You” (NOTE: is akin to yelling GO! or KEEP IT UP! BE STRONG! or even GET FIRED UP! “Jai” is Chinese for add, and “You” is the word for fuel. Literally, they were saying “More gas! More gas!”) So more gas is what I gave it.
In a few minutes which seemed like eternity, after running down several streets and turning a half a dozen corners, I heard the noise of a large crowd like at a soccer match. I turned yet another corner following the given direction of spectators on the street and suddenly I had to stop. In front of me was a wall of Chinese stretching across the road with nowhere for me to go. As my eyes frantically scanned the terrain in front of me looking for a path, I saw a tall Anglo that brought a microphone to his lips and started yelling unintelligible Chinese words which brought the crowd before me to a state of frenzied cheering. He then waved at me to come his way.
I looked at my watch as I ran towards him and realized that I was down to under a minute to the midnight 17 hour cut off time. I gave him the “San Diego Salute” (palms turned up, arms raised half way) as to pantomime “Where do I go now?” Suddenly the crowd around him parted in a Red Sea-Moses kind of way and I had a path. Later they would tell me there were approximately 5000 people around the finish line area that came to see the last contestants and I was the very last. Once through the crowd I realized I was entering a park and suddenly in front of me loomed a significant ornate Chinese bridge – very high in the center and steep sides leading up and down – just the kind of thing a runner wants to see at the end of a 16 hour plus day of racing. I am quickly up and over the top since the clock is ticking and I still do not know how far I have left.
I am super panicked now. My heart is in my throat. Fear, potential embarrassment, self-flagellation thoughts do battle in my head. I run down the other side of the bridge and run across a red timing mat at the bottom of the bridge. “Hmmm,” I think, “must be so they can see who I am and call out my name.” I look out before me and I see the ornate finish line at the end of a very bright red carpet that stretched out before me. I run on with adrenaline spiked-blood jamming through my body knowing that my time is down to seconds. Then everything slows down, both then and now in my memory.
I notice the huge crowd cheering loudly, the large ceremonial Chinese drums as big as your imagination will allow you, lining the red carpet, the massive amounts of colorful fireworks now suddenly firing into the sky behind the drummers, the Red Chinese Communist flags emblazoned with five pointed yellow stars waving crazily on both sides of my runway. I run on. I sprint on. I feel the presence of the tall Anglo beside me, running with me while yelling into his microphone. I run on. Now I bring up my left arm to look at my watch. The time is going. I am down to seconds and I know right then that I am not going to make it. It will be a matter of seconds of failure but it still will not be a “FINISH.” I am close, but I learned long ago that only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades. I am smiling, but inside I am defeated. I cross under the arch and stop and look around expectantly for someone to say the old cinematic phrase, “So sorry, Charlie!”
Instead, a finisher’s medal is placed over my head. My hand is being pumped by all kinds of people. I am gently turned around to face back towards the red carpet that I just sprinted down and guided to stand under the arch. Numerous paparazzi (well at least the Chinese version) jostle for position in front of me and tons of pictures are taken, which to this day I have never seen a one. Some local officials are posing and shaking my hand. Part of me inside wants to shout at all of these people that the actual winner crossed that line some 8-plus hours before me.
I suddenly realize that I am starving, but I look around and see that everything is being torn down quickly. No food in sight. When the picture taking session is over at the finish line I am led to a media tent. On the way there Jeff Peng slides up beside me (he finished hours before but waited for me). I told him I was hungry so off he went to tell his brother visiting from Shanghai to get me some food.
In the media tent they sat me down and stuck a microphone in my face. A tall, beautiful Chinese woman outfitted in a light blue business suit that I had not detected in the crowd before, began to ask me questions on camera for her TV viewing audience. Her English was precise and devoid of accent and mesmerized me as much as her beauty. I did say she was beautiful, right? I do not remember all of her questions but they were heavy on the “People of China this” and the “People of China that.” My answers were politically sensitive and gracious to the Peoples Republic of China because they had treated us all very well and gave me a story and a memory I will never forget.
Interview is over and my biggest challenge is now standing up and walking. I am still curious about my finish since my watch said I missed it by three seconds. I find Jeff and I address the sensitive subject, the big question: “Did I really earn a finish or did they do me a favor in order to have the final show?”
He looks at me with a great big smile and says your official time was 16 hours 59 minutes and 40 seconds with 20 seconds to spare, which meant I ran my last mile in 6:35 – the fastest mile I have ever run in an Ironman. But how could this finish time be accurate? He pointed down the red carpet, back towards the ornate arched Chinese bridge and said the timing mat at the foot of the bridge was the official finish line. All of this at the end of the red carpet was for ceremony. “Wow!” But I was still hungry. “Where is your brother? Is he bringing some food?” I asked as we sat on some park steps scanning the midnight horizon. In a few minutes, out of the dark mist I see his brother walking towards us carrying a white bag. As he hands it to me I am immediately struck by the incongruity of what I am holding. So many miles from home on such a very long day spent in a country that blessed the world with the food gifts of wontons, spring rolls, sweet and sour pork and roasted Peking Duck, I am looking into a McDonald’s carry out bag containing two cheeseburgers and an order of fries. They are inhaled in but a moment. As I always tell my athletes: “If you cannot win, have a good story!”