Limit to iron will, but not role

Triathlon: Baltimorean Lyn Brooks will compete in her 20th -- and final -- Ironman Triathlon this weekend, but she'll stay involved in event as tutor for promising Hollie Hollis.

October 22, 1999|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

When the grand old dame of triathloning, Lyn Brooks, completes her 20th and last Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii tomorrow -- and only a volcanic eruption would prevent it -- it's not as though finishing will bring much closure.

No sooner did Brooks accept the end of her annual pilgrimage to Kailua-Kona than she began working with a talented and youthful alter ego: Hollie Hollis, the former Johns Hopkins University women's cross country coach, who celebrated her 27th birthday Wednesday.

"I was always such a tomboy and had played every team sport available besides swimming and dirt-biking," recalled Hollis.

"My first experience with the triathlon was positive because I was strong in running and swimming and the biking portion didn't go too badly. The cycling portion of the race was about 26 miles and, at that point, I had gone only eight miles on a racing bike."

Hollis, who finished third in that first triathlon, kept that success and some good moments the next year in the back of her mind as she moved through school at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh on a track/cross country scholarship out of Dulaney High School.

After graduating in 1994, she kept her hand in the sport lightly until the time came to strike out for the longer triathlons, the ones involving 100-mile bike rides and full marathons, such as Ironman.

"I had to get a better idea about what was involved, how much training you had to do and stuff like that," she said. "Who better to approach than Lyn Brooks?"

Indeed.

An indication of what Brooks has meant to the Ironman and triathloning, in general, over nearly two decades was seen at the event's lush awards ceremony last October.

"To my utter surprise and amazement," said Brooks, 51, "they did a sort of `This is Your Life' thing and one of my longtime sponsors, Isuzu, gave me a luxury sports utility vehicle."

While Hollis eased into triathloning one step at a time, Brooks had plunged into it. Little did she realize, while jogging with friendsat Loch Raven Reservoir years ago, how far the suggestion, "Let's do the Ironman," would lead.

"To begin with," said Brooks, "only one person in the crowd, Joe Lacy, knew what the Ironman was. He had done the race in its infancy and explained the event involved about 140 miles of biking, running and ocean swimming. We all burst out laughing."

Some joke. That was 1980, months before the Ironman was contested for the first time on Hawaii's Big Island, and Brooks hasn't been able to tear herself away from the event since.

"Because there were two in 1982, as the event moved from the spring to the fall, I've done 19 of those things," she said, "and this one makes 20 and last. I promise."

Thing is, Brooks thinks back to a handful of years when she was having a dreadful time completing the course, and glories in the ordeal almost as much as she does in finishing third among all women a couple of times.

"The worst was 11 years ago when I was tired and sore getting off the bike [after covering 112 miles], physically sick and I now had a full marathon to run with a really bad knee."

That's when her spirit took over. "Besides doing the Ironman for the `war stories,' the essence of it is to put yourself in a situation that requires you to do something you've never had to do before."

If this sounds masochistic, so be it; to Brooks, her experience churning through the Pacific, peddling across the lava fields or pounding the highway has been mostly holistic.

"I'll never forget the feeling when I made it in after 16 hours and 18 minutes in '88. I was out there alone, moving mile by mile and worrying about beating the 17-hour time limit. I was positively joyous when I staggered in. I stood there thinking, `It will be a long time before you'll have to meet a challenge like this one again.' Nothing I've done touches what that day required of me."

Which speaks volumes considering the plethora of other things Brooks has undertaken over the last two decades.

Remember "Race Across America," the trans-continental bike event? She's been there, done that.

How about the "Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge," a compendium of athletic and survival disciplines conducted over 300-plus miles of the most rugged terrain and water on earth? Brooks captained a three-man, one-woman team over the treacherous mountains of Utah and down the Colorado River.

"I had never climbed or rappeled mountains before. It scared me to death," she said. But the team finished.

"But it's time to let go," the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Famer said. "Believe me, I don't need this last one. I'm at peace with myself right now. I don't want to be defined by the Ironman; I'm more than that.

"At the same time, I expect I'll get emotional before and after the race because several of the friends I've made over the years are coming to celebrate my last one. I'm throwing a party for them."

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