By: Dave Mandelkern
11 years ago, the Triathlon at Pacific Grove in September 2000 was the first triathlon I ever completed. My company was going public at the time, and I was part of the IPO roadshow team, but the investment bankers gave me special dispensation to take Thursday, Friday and Saturday off from the three week transcontinental trip to come home and compete in the event that I had been training for since January. After I had turned 40 I decided to stop being a couch potato and set out to change my life by doing my first triathlon through TNT. My wedding anniversary always seems to fall on Pac Grove weekend, and that year was no exception. My wife was very understanding, and came along to watch me compete in my first tri (she told me a couple of years later that seeing me come out of the water on the first loop of the swim, she was convinced that I was going to drown on the second loop!). To make it up to her for being such a good sport, I took her out to dinner at The Old Bath House at Lover's Point on Saturday night. Unfortunately, between jet lag from all the flying and the exhaustion of completing my first triathlon, I fell asleep during the main course. I still haven't lived that one down! I had to take an overnight flight out on Sunday to catch up with the rest of the team in London, and in spite of my absence, we had an incredibly successful IPO in late September 2000, one of the last tech IPOs of the dot com boom. The investment bankers even presented me with a pair of gold spray-painted running shoes to mark the achievement.
The next year, 2001, I had a few more triathlons under my belt (TNT really worked-- I was now a team captain), wasn't falling asleep immediately afterwards, and really wanted to make it up to my wife. So I signed up for Pacific Grove again, and planned to have her join me in Monterey for the weekend to celebrate my first year of triathlons (and again our wedding anniversary). Once again, the best laid plans, etc. etc. Where were you on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001? I was in Manhattan, having just finished an early business meeting at 8:30AM and was on my way across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey for a visit to one of our customers. My colleague had a boarding pass for United Flight 93 with his name on it, but I had persuaded him to take a later flight so he could attend the meeting with me (his youngest child is now named Dave). We didn't make it off the George Washington Bridge until 3PM that afternoon, and I didn't make it home until the following Sunday night (the preceding three sentences are an extremely condensed version of how I spent a horrifying day and a tragic week). While I was stranded in New York for the rest of that week, I kept checking in with my wife and with the TriCalifornia web site to see what was happening with the Triathlon at Pacific Grove, scheduled for the Saturday immediately after 9/11. I respect Terry Davis' decision not to cancel the race, but needless to say, I didn't make it back in time, and he really owes me a makeup race entry fee for that. My poor wife was there, for the second year in a row, with a wetsuit, a bicycle, and no husband. She seriously thought about doing the race in my stead, but decided that she really wasn't ready to do a triathlon without having trained for it. She stayed and watched the race (and my TNT team mates) as a spectator, and then drove all my gear home to await my return from New York City.
I did successfully complete the Triathlon at Pacific Grove in 2002, but I haven't been back since then. Maybe because 2002 was the year that the "check engine" light came on in my wife's new Ford Explorer as we were pulling off of Highway 1 into Pacific Grove. We coasted in to the Goodyear service station to find that her oil pump had failed and the engine had completely seized up. That car is now known in our family as the "Ford Exploder." Car was totaled but luckily still under warranty, and eventually was replaced with a new one. Luckily we were close enough that I was able to get my bike and gear to the transition area and pick up my registration packet in time for the race. We ultimately made it home in a rental car. You might think that my absence from Pac Grove since then was due to this incredible string of bad experiences, but that's really not the case.
Fast forward, and you'll see that I've been a little busy over the intervening years. Since completing that first triathlon at Pacific Grove in September 2000, I have now completed 100 triathlons, ranging from sprint distance races through full Ironman (including many TriCal events along the way, such as the inaugural Treasure Island triathlon and several repeats, your inaugural SF Alcatraz triathlon last year, and several Wildflower races in all three distances). That's out of 101 triathlon starts-- I've only had one DNF, at the City of Los Angeles Triathlon in 2009 because the surf was too high and rough for me to complete the swim course.
Triathlon #100 was the Lake Stevens Ironman 70.3 on August 14, 2011, just a couple of weeks ago. Along the way to finish #100 I have the distinction of becoming the first (and perhaps only) person to have completed a triathlon in each of the 50 United States plus the District of Columbia (completed in July 2008, all before I turned 50-- this was a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and World T.E.A.M. Sports; see www.50x50x50.org for full details).
So here I am 11 years later, looking forward to another Triathon at Pacific Grove next weekend, and wondering what crazy adventure (or misadventure) my wife and I will have this year. I'm really hoping for a calm, uneventful weekend, and that this will be triathlon finish #101 for me; a fitting and appropriate way to start my second hundred triathlons at the same place where I completed my first, and to mark our 18th wedding anniversary. But we'll be driving down in my wife's new Ford Escape, so you never know what might happen!
Attached please find a pair of bookend photos of me along my journey; before the swim start at Pac Grove way back when, and crossing the finish line after #100 in Lake Stevens WA.