Perfect attendance at Tinman down to 4


POSTED: Saturday, July 25, 2009

And then there were four.

Twenty-eight years after the first Tinman triathlon, the scaled-down version of the world-famous Ironman triathlon, just four competitors—two men and two women—have avoided injury and family conflicts and ill-timed pregnancies and mainland vacations and any other possible disruptions to continue their mid- to late-July tradition.

The quartet has started and finished each and every of the previous 28 Tinmans, and they're back for one more year. Leland How, Amy Harpstrite, Donohue Fujii and Linda Kaiser are the iron men and iron women of the Tinman, a three-part, 50-kilometer race that starts at Queen's Beach, weaves around Diamond Head, continues up to Hawaii Kai and wraps back around to end at Kapiolani Park.

The “;final four”; will join 666 other competitors for tomorrow's 29th annual Tinman.

“;To be part of four people in the world that has done this for 28 years, that's pretty special,”; Kaiser said. “;It's kind of hard not to do it.”;

In 1980, the triathlon was a new concept, and the novelty of the Tinman was an allure to locals looking for variety, for three races in one. They got it with the Tinman, and a whole new crowd of competitors was discovered.

Harpstrite was an impressionable 15-year-old whose parents entered the family on a whim in 1980. The second-oldest of 10 children, Harpstrite already had run her first marathon a year earlier and, despite admitting not to being much of a competitor or in very good shape at the time, the first Tinman simply sucked her in.

Now, the 44-year-old Kailua native is doing about eight to 10 triathlons a year and ran her best time in the Tinman in 2008.

How, 46, was just 16 when the Tinman first started. Having yet to earn his driver's license, he biked everywhere and saw an advertisement for the first Tinman at a local bicycle shop. A bodysurfer in his spare time, he figured his swimming and biking skills would be good enough to survive the first two legs. And if he struggled with the run, he could always walk.

Nearly three decades later, How is still competing in the only triathlon he's ever attempted. He concedes that now the race is more about continuing the streak and less about the competition.

Kaiser, 58, is an excellent swimmer who competed for Kalani High School and is the only woman to have swum seven of the eight Hawaii channels. (She has yet to swim from the Big Island to Maui, though she's hoping to attempt it later this year).

While the swimming portion of the Tinman has shrunk over the years, Kaiser has remained in the triathlon as a means to mix up her training and try her hand at other sports besides swimming.

As an 18-year-old lifeguard in 1980, Fujii and some friends decided to give the Tinman a try. They figured they were swimmers, and they could always learn to bike and run. While some of his friends moved on to other triathlons, Fujii has remained a Tinman-only guy.

Of course, the streak of 29 straight Tinman appearances has not been without jeopardy.

That Harpstrite has continued the streak is probably the most remarkable of the quartet.

When she left Oahu to attend college in Santa Clara, Calif., the race switched from October to July that year so she was able to continue competing.

She has been pregnant for three Tinmans. The first two times, she ran the race three months pregnant. In the last pregnancy, in 1998, Harpstrite was eight months pregnant. But being a physician, she figured she knew her own body and would be careful about her training regimen and staying hydrated. She ran the race and was still faster than she was as a teenager.

Even severe kidney failure in 2004 and an eventual kidney transplant in 2006 failed to stop her from competing. Ten weeks after receiving a kidney from her brother, she competed in her 26th straight Tinman.

“;It has been a real blessing that I've been able to do this streak despite all that,”; Harpstrite said. “;There's been all these things. ... Oh my gosh. I can't believe it's still going. For me, I think it'd be a hard thing to give up partially because it's been a cool thing that I've been able to do it for so long. It means a lot more to me to be able to do this again than other races and other triathlons that I've done.”;

Fujii, 46, has faced his share of medical scares as well. In 1994, a bike crash in early June and trip to the emergency room left him with severe road rash. It kept him out of the water practically until the race started.

In 2002, hemorrhaging in his eye from an injury had a doctor asking Fujii if he wanted “;to see, or do you want to race?”; Fujii figured the doctor was just being conservative and raced anyway.

And in 2004, an emergency appendectomy just five weeks before the race failed to sideline the Kapolei resident.

How, a reservist in the Air Force, thought he would miss the 2005 race when a portion of his unit was activated for a year-long deployment to Iraq in 2004. He was never activated, though, and his streak remained intact.

Kaiser has been fortunate to avoid any health-related issues and has been adamant about keeping the Tinman weekend clear of any previous obligations for the last three decades.

And if these four have their way, they will be seeing each other on Sundays in late July for years to come. While the four remaining original competitors enjoy the Tinman and the challenge it provides, they all admitted that the streak has truly become the major impetus for their continuing the event every year.