Kalani Simpson

Tarlavsky’s name
lives on in race

"Army Capt. Michael Tarlavsky was 5-foot-7 and all muscle, a gentle, driven, bulldog of a man. He wanted to become an Eagle Scout before he was 18, and he did. He wanted to be a star swimmer in high school, and he was. By the time he was 30, he had mastered rappelling, scuba diving and triathlons -- and become a husband, father and a member of the elite Special Forces. He was, a longtime friend said, 'like Superman.' "

-- The Washington Post

YESTERDAY, the Bikefactory North Shore Triathlon tried out its new name. It's now "Tarlavsky's North Shore Triathlon," named after a former participant. Named for a man who used to live not so far from the course, who loved running and jumping and sprinting and swimming and biking and diving and anything outdoors Hawaii had to offer. Sometimes -- as in triathlon -- it seemed like he did them all at once.

Mike Tarlavsky lived on the North Shore for a short time, he ran and swam there. He was married there.

He died, CNN says, when he was "killed when his unit came under attack from small-arms fire and grenades in Najaf, Iraq, on Aug. 12, 2004."

All deaths are sudden, and too many come as a shock. But Tarlavsky's -- even though he was a U.S. Special Forces soldier serving in dangerous combat duty in Iraq -- seemed to take all who knew him by surprise.

Anyone who had ever met him had no choice but to believe that not even a speeding bullet could slow him down.

MIKE CAME TO Hawaii twice and he fell in love both times. The Army stationed him here and he got a house at Pupukea, where he could swim, dive, run, everything. He reveled in the adventure. There was no show to it. Just joy. This was just what he did, because he couldn't think of living without doing these things.

Friends would notice him drenched with sweat first thing in the morning. If it's 7 a.m., he must have just gone on a 10-mile run.

"He never talked about the things he did," his wife, Tricia, said. "You just saw him doing them."

He had always been a perpetual-motion machine. His family emigrated from Latvia when he was just a small boy, and the family joke was that Mike could never be president, so he'd grow up to be a general, instead.

Only Mike wasn't kidding.

You could see he'd be a soldier because he attacked life. He was Special Forces in everything he did.

Tricia recalled going with Mike to pick up his entry packet for a marathon.

"I just saw how excited he was," she said. "I ended up signing up for the half-marathon and running that day, too."

Infectious. That's what he was.

Tricia knew that most of all.

It was on Mike's second trip to Hawaii that he met a woman on a casual group night out. A mutual friend shrewdly invited the two of them separately to go scuba diving at Shark's Cove the next day. Neither knew the other was coming. But rather than calling it a day after one rigorous activity, the two of them decided to spend the rest of the afternoon together climbing the Haiku Stairs.

"If I was (tired), I didn't admit it," Tricia said. "I thought he was pretty cool."

The feeling was mutual. Mike typically took first dates out on some kind of extreme-sports test. If they didn't like it, they wouldn't like him. If they couldn't keep up for a day, they certainly wouldn't for the rest of his life.

But Tricia responded to their "date" by inviting him on a group trip to Molokai, where the two of them bonded on a series of sprint-hikes.

"They weren't just hikes," Tricia said. "We ran."

It doesn't sound very romantic. But the two of them were already falling in love.

ON MIKE'S THIRD time here in Hawaii, they were together. They'd been long-distance dating -- he'd had training on the mainland, done a tour of duty in Afghanistan -- for a year. A friend asked when they were going to get married.

"Saturday," Mike said.

"I looked at him," Tricia said, "and he was serious."

They pulled it together in four days. Friends booked last-minute flights. Parents flew in. A general attended.

The ceremony was behind Mike's old house, on the beach.

"It was an amazing wedding," Tricia said.

About a year after that Tricia was getting ready to deploy to Iraq (she's since left the military) when the Army informed her she was pregnant. Mike, already in Iraq, had to hear the news via e-mail.

But it was the greatest adrenaline adventure of Mike Tarlavsky's life when he got the doctor to step aside to allow him to personally bring Joseph Michael -- "Joey" -- into the world.

Joey brought Mike's zest for life -- already sky-high -- to a whole new level, everyone said.

He was gung-ho as ever, in this last trip to Iraq. But now he couldn't wait to get home.

"He was so proud of our son," Tricia said.

He was 30. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on a sunny day. The headstone read "Silver Star."

"No one can measure this wound," Mike's father told the United States Army Special Operations Command this week at a USASOC memorial ceremony at Fort Bragg.

"It's like touching a wound that never heals," his mother said.

At Fort Bragg now, Mike's name is up on a wall.

Yesterday, it was on a race.

So they came, to celebrate this triathlon. Family, friends. His brother. The soldier who was with him when he died.

"People are coming out of the woodwork," race organizer Chris Gardner said.

They came out to celebrate the life of a man who ran, swam, biked this course before them.

"I never saw him sit on the couch," Tricia said. "He lived every second of his life."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

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