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Very excited to let you know about a book I’m working on that will be available for pre-order soon. As some of you know, I’ve been writing about IRONMAN and photographing races ever since my wife Cherie got into the sport more than 25 years ago. So I’m doubly thrilled to have been invited to be part of a new project with my friend, Mike Reilly, the best-known race announcer in the world of endurance sports.
Recognized the world over as the “Voice of IRONMAN,” Mike has called over 180 IRONMAN events, including 30 straight years of the World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i. Over 350,000 athletes have heard his iconic pronouncement, “You are an IRONMAN!” as they crossed the finish line and accomplished something most of us can barely even imagine.
Every one of those athletes has a story, and Mike has heard hundreds of them. Ever passionate about the sport and its participants, he listened closely as they poured out remarkable tales that illuminate the human capacity for triumphing over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. A firefighter nearly given up for dead after a horrific accidents fights his way back to an IRONMAN start line. A schoolteacher with a fatal disease goes out in a blaze of glory with one last race. A father uses IRONMAN to pull his family together after the tragic loss of a daughter.
Stories of dizzying achievement are everywhere. An exclusive club is formed consisting of only four men and a woman, each of whom has done every IRONMAN event on earth at least once. Two professional triathletes battle each other in what might be the greatest head-to-head athletic competition of any kind, ever.
There are funny stories, too, like the time an athlete coming out of the water pulled off his wetsuit only to discover, in front of a very large crowd, that he’d forgotten to wear his…well, never mind.
At long last, at the urging of many friends and athletes, Mike finally decided to write a book about what he’s seen and what he’s learned, and I’m thrilled to be able to help him do it. In ways large and small, Mike was a part of every story he relates, making the book a deeply personal glimpse into the fascinating world of the greatest endurance event of them all.
You can watch a short video of Mike talking about the book here. Then, please visit his website, https://mikereilly.net/, where you can read some celebrity endorsements and also join the VIP pre-order list. We’ll let you know when pre-publication excerpts are posted, and you’ll also be notified when the book becomes available, a week before ordering is opened to the general public. It will be in hardcover, eBook and audio editions.
I hope you have as much fun reading it as Mike and I are having writing it! (And please feel free to send this URL, www.leegruenfeld.com, to friends you think might enjoy hearing about this book.)
WHY I'M SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS BOOK
A very personal take on Mike Reilly
by Lee Gruenfeld
October 14, 1992.
My wife Cherie is running her first IRONMAN, and it just happens to be the World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i. I’m not going to tell you what the previous twelve months were like, but suffice it to say here that it was heavyweight prize fight training, the Coney Island hot dog eating contest and the Bataan Death March all rolled into one, liberally laced with a goodly dose of recurring psychosis and night terrors.
I'm talking about me. Cherie was fine.
Race day was the worst. While she happily galloped around the course unable to wipe a loopy grin off her face, I was beside myself with anxiety. What if she got knocked unconscious in the water? What if she crashed into a lava pile on the Queen K? What if the heat and humidity threw her to the pavement and a blood vessel in her 46-year-old brain exploded and nobody noticed because she was down on the Queen K and the sag wagon was still up in Hawi?
Or the worst possibility of all: What if she was still turning the Hot Corner when the official race clock hit the 17-hour cutoff?
None of that happened. She turned the Hot Corner as the race timer read 12:24, and as she loped down Ali'i, her goal firmly in the bag and the glow on her face lighting up the night, a new worry dropped itself into my sea of woes: Would the reality of her accomplishment match the anticipation of it? Would that final step across the line be everything she'd hoped it would be?
A thousand athletes had already passed under the finishing arch this day. Was it possible that, after all that work, at the very end of the road, my wife would simply sink into the undifferentiated morass of all those exhausted bodies and disappear?
A hundred yards to go. A noise rose up, like a squadron of fighter jets on afterburner or the straightaway at Daytona. People screaming at the tops of their lungs, clapping, dancing, jumping up and down. We didn't know about this tradition yet, that everyone who makes it to the finish gets the same wave of manic adoration as the winner, right up until the last racer just before midnight.
I then became aware of a disembodied voice hovering over everyone's heads. It came from the loudspeakers mounted in a high tower at the finish, and the way it caromed off the buildings and the pavement, it seemed to come from everywhere at once. Strong and commanding, to be sure, but most of all, it was…elated. Whoever was speaking seemed to be absolutely thrilled every time an athlete ran, shuffled, limped, wobbled or crawled toward the finish line. It was a voice and an attitude that seemed to reach down into the souls of both athlete and spectator, rousing the former to move a little faster and to stand up a little straighter, the latter to yell a little louder and dance with greater abandon. It was an anchor, that voice, a hitching post to which the emotions of everyone within earshot were firmly tethered, and the owner's overwhelming enthusiasm was thus amplified by the ten thousand hearts vibrating in its grip.
Still…maybe it was a routine, the same for everybody, a game show pre-broadcast trick to rev up the crowd. But that was the love of my life coming down Ali'i, not a busload of tourists to be worked with some stale vaudeville shtick. Was that all it was?
Twenty yards from the finish.
"Here comes Cherie Gruenfeld, from Blue Jay, California!" the voice exulted. "This is her very first IRONMAN!"
Ten yards. Five.
"Cherie…" the voice said, then hesitated, waiting. Until her foot crossed the line. And that's when we heard it.
* * *
And there it was. Just like that. A perfectly splendid, perfectly perfect encapsulation of all that had gone before. It was a declaration not of what Cherie had done, but of what she had become, an imprimatur of a hard-won transformation every bit as profound as that of chrysalis to butterfly.
The Voice (I was to learn later that you write it in upper case) dragged the last syllable out for what seemed like a full minute before it finally faded away, but it never faded away in our minds. Nor did it seem of any lesser moment when Cherie heard it again, and again, twenty-four more times as of this writing.
The Voice turned out to be Mike Reilly, and I was to discover through a long association with the sport that Cherie and I weren't the only ones to have been so affected. Mike's simple declaration has assumed almost mythical status in the exotic and rarefied world of IRONMAN racing. It's a phrase that, like a knighthood, confers upon its recipient a singular honor, a certificate of completion for a rite of passage that encompasses not just the race itself but everything that preceded it to make it possible.
In the same way that battles are won on the playing fields of Eton, IRONMAN races are won in the practice pools and the training roads. What we see on race day are splendid and dramatic individual efforts. What we don't see are the hundreds of miles of tedious swimming, thousands of miles of grueling cycling and endless hours of hard, lonely, often painful running that made this one day possible.
As hard as those things are physically, they can be even harder mentally. Anyone training for an IRONMAN can tell you tales of the creative mind games they play to force themselves out of bed and into the pool at four in the morning or out onto the road late in the evening. The specifics of those games are as varied and as personal as the individuals playing them, but talk to enough IRONMAN athletes and you'll eventually coax an admission out of nearly all of them.
"When I'm at my lowest," they'll say, when things hurt the most and they don't think they can take another step, they visualize the finish line and what it's going to feel like to hear Mike Reilly pronounce, as their arms at long last rise in triumph:
"You are an IRONMAN!"
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you're interested in understanding the American character, there are plenty of
texts to consult— including, of course, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration
of Independence and Alexis de Tocqueville's meditations on this country. Here's
another work to add to the mix: John Brenkus's "The Perfection Point,"
about the absolute limits of human athletic performance.
—Wall Street Journal
to spark debate in sporting and scientific circles,
the book is engagingly written, well argued, and —even when
the conclusions seem almost science-fictiony— entirely plausible.”
—Booklist (*starred review)
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