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Macca’s relationship with Triathlete, which began as a teen growing up in Australia, comes full circle.
Growing up, my least favorite teacher was my year 10 English teacher, Mrs. Mills. It wasn’t that she was a bad teacher; it was just that she never quite understood that inspiration could come from places other than the lines of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or the skilled words by Joseph Heller in Catch 22. She loved literature and I respected that, but I just didn’t share that same passion.
In the middle of class one day, Mrs. Mills caught me reading Triathlete magazine. To understand how valuable this magazine was to a triathlete in Australia in the 1980s, you had to live here. It was what we called an “import,” and not many stores in Australia stocked imports. Someone would get his hands on a copy and it would be passed around and cared for like a family heirloom. I got the August 1988 issue of Triathlete through my best friend, Sean Maroney, who had taken it from his older brother that morning. We had no idea where Mick had got it, but we knew we could read it, photocopy the pages at school and get it back to Mick before he even knew it was gone. At that moment, that magazine was the most valuable thing I possessed. Triathlete was our lifeline to our obsession: triathlon.
After making a scene in front of the class and pointing out that “babble and rubbish” like this magazine (she obviously never read it) was the reason we were seeing a demise in classic literature, she sent me to the principal’s office with a note indicating the breach of the rules that I had committed. The note said simply, “Reading inappropriate material in class.”
Now, our principal was no joke. There was a myriad of urban myths surrounding Mr. Coleman’s stern character. He was one guy you tried to steer clear of. I was pretty apprehensive about this meeting.
When I was called into the office I presented Mr. Coleman with the note and stood before him with my head down. My real concern was the magazine—explaining to Sean’s older brother that it was confiscated was just as scary as this meeting.
“Do you have what you were reading with you, Mr. McCormack?” he said sternly.
“Yes, sir,” I replied timidly, handing over the magazine.
He looked at the cover first, then the back cover and then flicked through a few pages. He paused for a second on one of the pictures, and then proceeded to page through very slowly. The silence was deafening. I was starting to sweat.
He glanced up from his desk and looked at me right in the eyes.
“Triathlete?! Where did you get this?” he demanded.
“Sir, that is the August issue of Triathlete magazine from the USA. You cannot buy it here in Australia. It is my friend’s magazine, sir. I know I should not have been reading it in class, but it’s not my magazine, sir. You cannot confiscate it. I have to return it to him this afternoon after school.”
“Is that right?” he replied quickly. “Is that right?”
He didn’t take his eyes off me. I remember thinking, “I am in so much trouble. I am going to lose this magazine, and how am I going to explain that?” On top of it, I was sure I was going to get a detention.
“You can leave this magazine here for now and come and grab it after school. Now return to class and concentrate on the assignment,” he said calmly.
To say I was in shock would be an understatement. Mr. Coleman had given people after-school detention for trivial things like not having your school jacket on or running through the quad. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was keen to get out of there before my good fortune changed.
I turned around and started for the door. Almost immediately Mr. Coleman stopped me.
“Mr. McCormack, one last thing.”
I knew it. Here it comes, I thought to myself, the real punishment.
“Yes, sir?” I answered timidly as I turned back around to meet his stare.
“So, who is your pick for Hawaii this year—Dave Scott or Mark Allen?”
As he finished the sentence, he was smiling ear to ear, with a glint of approval in his eyes.
“Mark Allen for sure.” I answered confidently, and I turned and walked out of his office with a smile.
It’s ironic how life plays out sometimes. After graduation, I would see Mr. Coleman at triathlons around Australia. When I appeared on the cover of Triathlete for the first time, the thrill was indescribable. A few months after that cover came out, I bumped into Mr. Coleman at a triathlon, and he had me sign the magazine for him.
I wrote: To Principal Coleman, “I will not read inappropriate material in class.”
It is truly a privilege to write for the magazine I grew up reading. Expect me to be open and honest and maybe a little controversial, but straight down the line. After 22 years racing in this sport, I have seen a lot of changes, raced a lot of athletes and made a lot of mistakes. I hope this column will help you on your journey in this sport. Hop on for the ride.
Chris “Macca” McCormack has more than 200 race wins—including a dramatic victory at the 2010 Ironman World Championship—to his credit and is widely considered one of the best athletes the sport has ever seen. He’s currently living and training in his native Australia, gunning for an Olympic berth in the 2012 Games. Catch “Macca’s Musings” every month in Triathlete magazine.