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It was hard to miss. The jagged, red scar started under the hairline on the right side of his face and traversed his forehead before plunging south in front of the right ear and coming to an abrupt halt just below the chin.
The owner of this distinctive mark was named Jim, and he was next in line to meet Dave Scott. I was standing behind the six-time Ironman world champion as he signed autographs and chatted with his fans prior to his comeback race, the 1994 Ironman World Championship.
Scott was 40, but he certainly didn’t look it. From the long lines, it was obvious that “The Man” had lost little in the way of popularity even though it had been seven years since his last Ironman victory and five since Iron War, the 1989 showdown that he had lost to his nemesis, Mark Allen.
Dave Scott does not simply sign autographs. Nope. He likes to know the people he is signing for. He asks about you, your family, your ancestors, your dog, your dog’s ancestors and about that great sandcastle you built back in the third grade.
For people working the booths, he could be maddening. At the end of the day, everyone else has packed up and headed off to dinner while the line to meet Dave still stretched from here to Newark and back. “Dave, my clothes are going out of style,” they’d say through clenched teeth. “Dave, I need to get home before my 6-year-old graduates from college.”
Dave Scott couldn’t care less. He takes the right amount of time with each and every person. They’ve waited in line to meet Dave Scott, not just to get a scribbled autograph from someone who is fulfilling an obligation and not very happy to be there. Dave Scott is happy to be there and is as anxious to meet you as you are to meet him.
Sound unique? It is. Dave’s interaction with the scarred man back in ’94 exemplifies the champion’s character.
Jim put a poster in front of Dave, who looked up, smiled, shook hands and started the interrogation:
Dave: “Jim, are you racing this year?” said Scott, felt-tip marker at the ready.
Jim: “No, not this time.”
Dave: “Is someone in your family racing? Your wife? Your brother? Your dad or mom?”
Jim: “No, Dave. No one I know is racing.”
Dave: “Are you thinking about doing the Ironman someday?”
Jim: “I’m not really sure, Dave.”
Dave Scott was stumped. Jim wasn’t racing, no one in his family was racing, he wasn’t here doing reconnaissance. Hmm.
Dave: “So, what brings you to Kona, Jim?”
Jim: “I’m sure you don’t remember, but I was in a car accident four years ago and a friend of mine asked you to call me. You called me three times while I was in the hospital to see how I was doing. You have no idea what that meant to me. I vowed right then that if you ever raced again in Hawaii, I would be here. I’m here in Kona for one reason: to watch you race.”
That year, at the age of 40, Dave Scott ended up finishing second to Greg Welch and adding to his legend. In his career in Kona, he won six times, took second three times and fifth once.
His first Ironman title came in 1980, when he was 26. He broke the course record by nearly two hours that day and proceeded to become the first to go under 11, 10 and nine hours, and to dip under 8:30. When he lost to Mark Allen in 1989, he went 8:10:13, taking 18 minutes off of his own course record, and running the marathon in 2:41:03. Dave Scott was constantly pushing the Ironman envelope.
Jim was certainly not alone. I admit it. I always loved the Ironman, but when a certain somebody was on the starting line, the buzz factor went through the roof.
Why? Simple. We knew we’d get to watch Dave Scott race.
Bob Babbitt is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com.