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Technically, Sue Hutter’s family totals four: husband Mike, son Peter and daughter Chloe. She also has dozens – perhaps hundreds – of unofficial family members. To read the list of her “adopted” kin, just review the pro roster at the Ironman World Championships.
Though Hutter caught the television coverage of the Kona race in the 1990s, she had never given the sport much thought. That changed in 2008 when Chloe, a young runner, announced she wanted to meet professional triathlete Kate Major – they were both female athletes with curly hair, so in Chloe’s mind, they were practically twins. A random request, to be sure, but Hutter went along with it. “We went to Boise to watch Kate race in 2008. We stood outside the pro meeting, and when it was over, we introduced ourselves.”
Chloe and Kate became fast friends, calling each other before races to wish each other good luck. The kinship inspired Chloe to send another pro, Linsey Corbin, a letter. Corbin responded by handing Chloe her trademark cowboy hat in the finish-line chute at Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
Over the years, the Hutter family has opened their home to any athlete who needs a hot meal and a place to stay when staying in their hometown of Coeur d’Alene for the half and full Ironman races. “I wanted to show the kids how to be givers and to never toot your own horn, to just do good for people and help them along the way.” It’s a principle that has made Hutter so beloved by so many athletes in the sport. It’s also how she became one of the most beloved figures in triathlon, despite having never done a triathlon (“But my green cruiser bike is the bomb,” she is quick to share).
As her “extended family” grew, so too did her support of them. For the last 15 years, Hutter has traveled to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii as often as possible to cheer on athletes at the Ironman World Championships. The tradition started when Chloe was in middle school (“I would pull her out of school, homework in tow, and it would have to be done by the time we landed in Kona”). There, the Hutters would volunteer pre-race and cheer their faces off on race day.
Hutter has mastered the art of spectating the Ironman World Championships. She attends every Breakfast with Bob show, says hello to her friends at bike check-in, and travels the course the day before the race, festooning the streets with sidewalk chalk. She prints out the pro list and writes the estimated times for each athlete so she knows when and where she’s likely to see them on the course the next day.
The night before the race, she packs her backpack with water, snacks, and portable phone batteries so she can head out the door at 3 a.m. on race morning. This lets her snag a primo spot on the Kona pier, where she can catch the best view of the iconic swim start. She leaves prior to the swim exit, hustling up the road to Palani to catch the pros as they exit town for the bike leg. A few hours later, she’s in front of the Kona Reef (what she deems the “best place ever”) to cheer athletes on the run.
And then, of course, she’s at the finish line, where she remains until midnight. “It’s a must-see, and worth staying up for. Nothing matches the finish line at midnight,” she says.
Despite the jam-packed itinerary, Hutter says the day goes by fast. Too fast. But it’s worth it, because in Hutter’s mind, she’s only returning the love and kindness she’s received from the athletes.
“My life is all about the good people that we’ve had a pleasure to meet along the way.”