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Grandfather And Granddaughter Qualify For Kona

Meet the first grandfather-granddaughter duo to qualify for the Ironman World Championship.

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Meet the first grandfather-granddaughter duo to qualify for the Ironman World Championship.

At the time our story begins, Australia’s Allan Pitman was 36 years old and a father of two. His kids—Maria, 14, and David, 12—were both very good swimmers who had recently gravitated to running. Their coach wanted them to start building a running base, but since they were so young, Pitman felt compelled to run with them, despite not having a background in endurance.

A few months into their running program, Pitman heard about an upcoming short triathlon nearby. He decided to give it a go. Even on a borrowed Kmart bike, he loved the experience, though he admits that at the end he felt like his calves had each been pumped up to about 120 psi.

“I was hooked,” he says. “The second-place finisher was a guy named Greg Reddan, who had finished seventh at the February 1982 Ironman in Kona. When I heard the distances of the Ironman—2.4, 112 and 26.2—I thought someone would have to be some sort of freak to go that far. Could a human being actually do that?”

The next fall, after taking the family to Disneyland in Los Angeles, they flew on to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to watch the 1985 Ironman World Championship. “I planned the trip around the Ironman because I wanted to see the event for myself,” Pitman says. When Australia’s Greg Stewart came by Pitman and his family on Ali’i Drive as he headed toward the finish line in 15th place, Pitman’s daughter, Maria, ducked under the ropes to hand Stewart an Aussie flag, which he carried with him across the finish line. “I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment,” Pitman says.

Maria went on to become the two-time junior state triathlon champion when she was 16 and 17 years old. At the age of 19, just like her dad, she got married and started a family. Maria and her family stayed connected to triathlon, mainly through 2004 Olympic silver medalist Loretta Harrop, who lived in the area and passed on running shoes and swimsuits to Maria’s daughters Karlie and Ashleigh.

Karlie showed early promise as a triathlete, and was looking for a new challenge when Pitman, her grandpa, suggested the Hell of the West Triathlon, a 2K swim, 80K bike and 20K run.

Pitman had a great reason for suggesting the Hell of the West event on Feb. 2, 2013: It was only a four-hour drive inland from their home in Brisbane, and he had never lost there. That’s right—he had won his age group in that event 20 straight times going back to when he was racing in the 40–45-year-old division. Now in his sixth age division at that race, 65–69, he felt that if Karlie had a big goal staring her in the face, she would commit to do what it took to succeed. “I think it turned something on inside of Karlie,” Pitman says

It sure did. Both grandfather and granddaughter won their divisions that day—her first win at Hell of the West, and his 21st in a row.

On May 4, 2014, Pitman and Karlie made history when they both won their age groups at Ironman Australia at Port Macquarie to become the first grandfather-granddaughter tandem to qualify for the Ironman World Championship, to be held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 11. Pitman’s granddaughter not only qualified, but she “chicked” and “granddaughtered” him with her 11:05:38 finish to his 11:15:47. “I’m so proud of her,” Pitman says. “She would have finished third in the men’s 18–24 age group, she passed 26 men during the run and ran a 3:52 in her first-ever marathon. I actually went 15 minutes faster this year than last year in tougher conditions, and I know that consistently training with Karlie played a huge role.”

This will be Pitman’s 16th trip to Kailua-Kona to participate in the Ironman World Championship and, if all goes well, it will be his 40th Ironman finish. He has been in the top five in his age group four times on the Big Island, and his personal best of 10:20 came at the age of 51.

He also has another moment that he is looking forward to as well. Every year there is a special dinner for the Iron Gents, a group of—shall we say—more “mature” triathletes over the age of 60. “My 86-year-old mum is coming over to watch the race,” Pitman says. “I’m guessing I’ll be the first Iron Gent in history to actually bring his mother to the Iron Gents dinner!”

Bob Babbitt (@bob_babbitt) is an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.

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