Our Hawaiian Story
By Tim Hola
ISSUE #19, Winter 2003 – On October 23, 1999, I raced in my first IRONMAN Triathlon in Hawaii on the Big Island. It was an unforgettable experience. Not only was the race so memorable, but the location became very special to my girlfriend and me. In fact, the entire state of Hawaii became a very special place for me and my then girlfriend Nikki. Most remarkably, we were attracted to a little church on Ali’i Drive named St. Peter’s Catholic Church. It was here where Nikki and I sat before and after the race to say a prayer for the athletes, our health, and to be fortunate enough to experience such a beautiful place.
It was at this church where for the next four years, Nikki and I would say these prayers during race week. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to qualify for the Hawaii IRONMAN for four consecutive years, (1999-2002). We had created such great memories in those four trips to Hawaii, so it just seemed right to propose to her here on October 7, 2001, my 27th birthday. After an ecstatic “Yes!” Nikki and I decided on getting married in Hawaii the next year, but only needed to decide when, what island, etc. I was slowly learning how we’d be bombarded with wedding questions once we told people we were engaged, so I wanted to be prepared as much as possible. We tentatively planned a summer family wedding on the island of Maui, and through the next few weeks we were trying to lock in a date.
While the wedding plans were in full swing, I raced at IRONMAN Florida five weeks after the Hawaii IRONMAN unsure of what type of condition my body would be in. Nevertheless, I raced, not knowing what my body could handle. I ended up finishing in 9 hours and 33 minutes and 5th in my age group, qualifying for Hawaii 2002. I accepted the slot, but now we had a dilemma: Do we take two trips to Hawaii or merge it into one trip? We decided after Florida that we’d get married in Maui the week after the IRONMAN in Hawaii. Race date: October 19, 2002. Wedding date: October 24, 2002. The planning begun on what we hoped would be very memorable two-week trip.
In early October of this year we had just about every thing planned. About 23 of our family members were going to the ceremony and about 4 people in my family were coming to watch me race the IRONMAN the week before. Nikki and I were also planning our honeymoon after we got married while in Hawaii. We decided that we were going to stay on Maui and plan some activities such as snorkeling, hiking, etc. Yet, we really wanted to do some active things that would not be so typical on a honeymoon. So we both inquired about the Nissan XTERRA World Championship triathlon held on Maui on October 27th. After some initial calls and two race fee’s paid, we signed up for the race and planned away.
So here we were. I was racing the IRONMAN on October 19th, getting married on the 24th, and both of us were doing the XTERRA on the 27th. A pretty memorable October was about to happen. Three huge events all within nine days of each other. We were ready to begin a two-week journey that would hopefully go off with out a hitch!
We left from Denver on October 12th, and headed to the Big Island of Hawaii. We stayed for the first four nights by ourselves. Some might say it was a honeymoon in reverse. On Wednesday before the race, my parents, sister and nephew flew in to watch the race. We moved to a condo in Kona and played tour guide for my sister Christine who hadn’t been to the Big Island before. I felt so lucky that she was able to see the race this year, because in previous years she wasn’t able to come.
As race day approached, I felt very relaxed. The IRONMAN was one of three momentous events I would be a part of in the next two weeks, but getting married was the most notable, so I simply looked at the race in relation to getting married. The race seemed pretty insignificant needless to say. So, I battled through the rain to the pier, got body marked, stretched, said the goodbyes to the family, and warmed up in the water.
The last few moments before the cannon went off, I knew this would be another long day, but I tried to keep the mind set that I’ve done this before, and I know the what feelings I experience at each part of the race (most of the time). I thought, “Wow, I’m in Hawaii about to do this race for the fourth year in a row, and this time I’m getting married the next week in Maui.” It was a very special moment for me.
During the race, I went through my standard racing emotions: happiness, excitement, pain, power and relief, not necessarily in that order. The swim was full of fairly big swells, as you might have seen on the television coverage, so for me it was a constant battle just to stay close to the buoys. I exited the water in just over 54 minutes, and started the bike in a downpour of rain for about the first 20 miles or so. I always get worried about racing in the rain, especially when you travel so far for a race and have so much time, money, and emotions invested in it. The sun came out just as I passed the airport, and it soon became sunny, hot, and challenging as usual. I soon saw Tim Luchinske come up from behind, and told him congrats for achieving his best swim time. He sped ahead and I told him to stay strong for the rest of the day. After the bike turnaround, I was ready to get in some soft running shoes, and just tried to motor home as quick as possible to T2 finishing the bike in 5 hours and 22 minutes.
When I started running, I was very happy. This is when I could see my family along the road with their motivational signs to root me on. “Go Uncle Tim” was the sign the stood out in my mind. It made me feel pretty lucky to have my nephew watch me race in Hawaii. I felt pretty solid the entire run, but toward miles 18-22 it was a struggle. I just kept in mind how lucky I was to be here for the fourth time, and that I needed to savor this day. You just never know if you’ll ever race in Hawaii again. I saw Nikki on the side of the road on the way back from the Energy Lab screaming for me. I then saw my boss, Dan Hulse (also racing) running toward the Energy Lab. We exchanged high fives and continued on our way. I hit Ali’i drive knowing I’d be under 9:50 and was very happy. I ran by my family on Ali’i right in front of the ABC store we always frequented. I picked up Anthony, my 2-year old nephew, and ran with him in my arms to the finish line. The crowd was fantastic as usual, and Anthony took it like a champ. The finish picture was spectacular. Finish time: 9 hours 46 minutes.
Significant event number one was complete. Wow, I finished the IRONMAN…again! The next and most important event was coming up: getting married.
Nikki and I flew to Maui on Monday of the next week, where we met about 23 members of our families. They were all in our wedding, which was going to take place on Thursday night, October 24th at sunset. Our wedding was held in the chapel of the Grand Wailea Resort. We both were so excited for the big event. We all got settled in and prepared for the family events: a welcome breakfast at Nikki’s parent’s condo, a luau at the Outrigger resort, and the rehearsal dinner. All went over so well, and each one of us was happy that we could spend such a memorable event, in such a breathtaking place.
As the wedding day arrived, that morning, Darin (my best friend from high school and my best man) and I went on a run together along the beach. It was a great time for both of us to spend some quality one-on-one time the day of the wedding. It was a special day for all of us, and we knew it was going to be nothing short of extravagant. We arrived at the church at 3:30 PM and got into our assigned places. As the ceremony began, I started to walk down the aisle escorting my parents. I then waited and watched as the rest of the ceremony took place. I then saw Nikki at the rear of the church entering with her parents. I was stunned. Never could I have imagined how beautiful she would be. This is really happening to me, to us. All of the planning, phone calls, and coordination for this day was paying off, and I was so excited to marry Nikki and to be with her forever. The ceremony took about _ hour. Right afterward, we exited the church and took several sunset pictures. During one picture of us walking along the beach, I thought, ” This day is truly an amazing day for our whole family.” That day was truly a gift.
That night we had a wonderful dinner at the resort, heard many toasts, and truly celebrated life with our family. Our families flew home the next day, and Nikki and I began our honeymoon.
We enjoyed Maui to the fullest the next few days. Prior to leaving for home, we had one more activity planned. Something a little more adventurous than the typical, relaxing with cocktails on the beach thing. When we signed up for the XTERRA World Championship, we were so very excited. Nikki and I both love to compete, try new things, take risks, do athletic events, and have fun while doing them. The XTERRA seemed to fit the bill quite nicely for us.
We rented a couple of high-end mountain bikes from a local bike shop in Lahaina. A few days before the race, and were all set to go. We did a few practice loops on the course the day before the race, went to the pre-race meeting and dinner, and were so excited we could barley sleep the night before. As soon as we woke at 5:30 AM, we set up our race gear, did a once over on our bikes, and were out the door. We arrived at the race site in plenty of time to get our bikes set up. As the start of the race grew near, we both simply had a relaxing mindset, because this race was for fun. It was an adventure for us. It was the first adventure for us as husband and wife, and certainly not the last. We said a quick prayer together, exchanged hugs and said in an English style Phil Ligget accent, “Have a good workout!” We put our race faces on and dove in the water as the cannon went off.
The two-loop course made it a very exciting swim. “Mountain bike triathlons greatest day” as most refer to the Maui XTERRA was underway, and Nikki and I were actually a part of it! After the first loop of the swim, I exited the water and could see the church where Nikki and I got married only three days earlier. I smiled and continued on my way. After the second loop, I exited the water as the first amateur and headed onto my bike. I was just hoping to keep air in my tires for the entire ride. I just remembered seeing so many people getting flats on TV, and we just wanted to finish the race safely and uninjured. As I headed up the first climb, I saw Michael Lovato. He is a really nice guy and great athlete who I met in Boulder this summer. We exchanged hellos and continued upward. A few minutes later I saw him off his bike examining it. “Need anything Mike?” I asked. He replied, “Yea, another pedal. Got one?” I had to laugh because of the unusual request. I said no and continued on, hoping that I could at least keep my bike in one piece. As I continued on up the slopes of Haleakala, I was getting nervous for the downhill portion. I am not as experienced mountain biking as I am on the road, but my goals were to finish safely, and even if I had to walk it down, that was what I determined to do. As I headed down the mountain, I hit lots of loose lava, and wiped out a few times, nothing major as I was going pretty slowly at the time. Then my first flat. I should emphasize the word first. I quickly changed as best as I could, and was underway once again. About 15 minutes later, another flat. Man, I thought, “Will I make the bike cutoff?” Actually I had plenty of time, but was a little worried!
Well, I think the powerful forces of the volcano gods were looking over me that day, because the as I finished the bike and began the seven mile run, I never felt better considering the week before was the IRONMAN. I finished the race in 3 hours 31 minutes, and was so relieved that it marked the end of my three-event ordeal. I finished the IRONMAN, had a spectacular wedding, and completed the XTERRA without harm to either Nikki or I. At the finish Nikki and I talked about the race and how much fun it was, and how we would love to come back next year.
That night, Nikki and I were sitting at the awards dinner when they were giving the overall Pro and Amateur awards for the “Hawaii Double”. This is the category of the XTERRA for the competitors who complete the IRONMAN the week before, and the XTERRA, back-to-back. The best combined times of the two races for Pro and Amateur men and women receive awards. Of course, that was something I thought of winning, but never counted on it at all. As we checked out the results at the banquet, I saw that I was the winner of the Age Group Double for all Amateur Men. Wow! That was the perfect topper to this two-week trip. Nikki and I were so excited. At the awards dinner they brought me up on stage, awarded me a trophy, and two round trip tickets to Hawaii. First Anniversary trip perhaps? In fact, they handed me a large check on stage similar to the ones you might see on The Price is Right. That certainly was a great memory.
The next day we flew home, and reflected on our adventure together. We had so much fun in such a short time. They are memories that no one can take away from us. We were so fortunate that each day that passed was a gift for us. A gift that we could share together and begin creating memories that will last for a lifetime.