Ironman’s ageless It Girl returns to Kona to literally write her final chapter.
In February 1982, the year of her famous collapse and the 10-yard finish-line crawl seen around the triathlon world, 23-year-old Julie Moss finished the Hawaii Ironman in a time of 11:10:19.
In April 2017, 35 years later, 58-year old Julie Moss won her age group at the Memorial Hermann Ironman North American Championship Texas in a time of 10:46:51.
Whoa. “Right now, I’m the best athlete I’ve been in my life!” excitedly says Moss. “I’m back to where I was at 38 years old, when I was a pro and went sub-11 at Kona,” she says. “And when Kona rolls around this October, I’ll be even fitter. In my dreams, I’ll stand up on the podium in my age group at the awards ceremony—the very day that I turn 59.”
That a former pro athlete could even think she is her best at nearly 60 years of age seems remarkable, but to hear the ageless, irrepressible Moss tell it, it simply took her this long to get her act together, get properly motivated, and for the first time, truly fall in love with the sport that has defined her life.
“From 1982 to 1991, triathlon was job, a career,” she says. “I wasn’t a natural athlete. Yes, I did the Hawaii Ironman almost every year, got lots of sponsorships that many people said I didn’t really earn (due to the life-long celebrity bestowed by The Crawl), and continually raced and traveled all around the world. I had a few great moments, like beating Paula Newby-Fraser in her prime at the Gold Coast World Cup long distance race in 1989 just after getting engaged (to six-time ironman winner Mark Allen). That day, I finally earned my stripes as a pro.
“But on the whole, my heart wasn’t really in it. And the pressure of living up to the standards of a Mark Allen was too much.”
Moss mustered up the willpower for her first “post-baby Ironman” in 1997 (son Mats was born four years earlier), a mid-pack finish with a broken collarbone at the 2000 Oceanside Ironman, and a “post-divorce” Ironman in New Zealand in 2003 which she did not train for. After that, at 44, she hung up her bike. Over the next nine years, she kept in reasonably good shape running and swimming, but barely rode, didn’t do a race, and frankly didn’t care.
Starting in 2004, her main connection to triathlon became what would be a 12-year stint as a race announcer at Wildflower and other Tri California events. It gave her a surprising new perspective on the sport.
“Seeing first-timers struggling, seeing that just finishing alone was a great victory for most people, gave me an appreciation for the beauty of triathlon,” Moss said. “It gave me the ‘heart’ connection that I lacked all those years.”
She got a chance to utilize that connection by the 30th anniversary celebration of The Crawl in 2012. Kathleen McCartney Hearst, who won the 1982 race after Moss’ famous collapse, asked her to help her train for their by-invitation Kona rematch.
“As I trained with Kathleen, I got my energy back,” she says. “I was not in great shape by race day, but no matter. Our training together got me fired up. I came back to Kona to dust myself off—and I did!
“I went out hard and blew up on the bike. My inner thighs were cramping. Half-way through, I had to dismount, stretch and walk a lot—just when, of course, an NBC camera crew came by. I also had to walk on the first part of the run. But I finished in 12:39. And—just like all those people I watched crossing the finish line for years at Wildflower—I was incredibly happy!”
“It was a revelation. I discovered the unlimited potential of life that day in Kona. I realized that you can use the Ironman and the training to connect back to a place of empowerment. And I realized that I had underestimated myself all those years.”
Now friends and teammates, Moss and McCartney followed up by launching a speaking company, Iron Icons. Their presentations to business and community groups recounted the lessons learned by two very different women who, through a weird twist of fate, created sports history in 29 seconds one day decades ago. Their ultimate take-away message:
“Go past your limits—that’s where the magic happens.”
A couple of years ago, Moss decided that she needed to listen to her own advice.
“I didn’t want to keep talking about 1982 forever,” she said. “After all, I felt revitalized, I was healthy and wanted to see how far I could take it. So I lined up some new challenges—and decided to write a book.” She contacted a local award-winning writer, Robert Yehling, and began working on her life story, “Crawl of Fame.”
Last year, she joined a group of 20- and 30-year-olds and passed the grueling eight-day San Diego lifeguard certification course, then finished sixth in her age group at the Oceanside Half-Ironman. But that wasn’t enough, argued Yehling, her biographer. She need a “Final Chapter”—a dramatic ending to the book.
Thirty-five years after it all started, he said, Julie Moss had to go back to Kona once more time and—in the greatest shape of her life—try to get on the podium in her age group.
So there it was. The goal. The mission. “It’s exactly what I wanted and needed,” she said.”My last Ironman. My Final Chapter.”
Moss was granted an entry to the 2017 Hawaii Ironman, but wanted to earn it. So she prepped for her rousing Ironman Texas coronation with an age-group win at the South Korea half-Ironman last fall (qualifying for the world championships) and a second-place back at the Oceanside half-Ironman this April. Leading up to Kona, she’ll keep in shape throughout the spring and summer with full-time training, including a half-Ironman in Boulder, lots of trail running, three group rides a week and several organized century rides and Grand Fondos.
Equaling her 30-year-old race times in her sixth decade has led more than one person to call Moss a “freak.” But beyond her lack of major injuries, diseases or genetic conditions, she says two key discoveries are responsible for her freaky fountain-of-youth fitness.
The first one is yoga. “I never stretched in my entire career, but started doing hot yoga eight years ago and now do it every day, without fail,” she says. “My swimming is way better now because my shoulders are so flexible.” She belongs to two studios and shows up like clockwork after her swim-bike-run workouts at 3:30 pm.
The other key discovery, of course, was that she actually likes what she’s doing. “Now I’m doing the Ironman because I love the sport and have learned to love pushing myself—and pushing hard,” she says.
For the sake of perfect symmetry, a Hollywood script writer might suggest that Moss could push hard enough to collapse and crawl to the finish one final time. “But that will definitely not happen again,” she says. “Once you go that far, you guard against having to do it again—so you either back-off or train your ass off. And I’m having tons of fun right now training my ass off. “