SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Three outstanding multisport athletes who helped define the landscape of triathlon as it is known today were formally inducted into the fifth class of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Thursday at the Bahia Resort Hotel.
Nearly 200 friends, family members and multisport dignitaries gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of age-grouper Missy LeStrange, paratriathlon pioneer Jim MacLaren and the iconic Julie Moss, all of whom have made their mark on the still-growing triathlon community.
"Being the fifth year of our Hall of Fame, what makes it even more magical is the fact that we have so many of the previous inductees in the room, and so much energy and passion for the sport," said Chuck Graziano, chair of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Committee. "It was an amazing night and an amazing experience, and I congratulate those inductees who were here tonight receiving their awards."
The night began with opening remarks from special guest and London Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, who took the opportunity to look back on his own triathlon career. Brownlee still remembers his introduction to the sport when he was just 8 years old, remarking that Moss' crawl to the finish at the 1982 Ironman also made an impact.
"The girl who always just showed up and got by was being transformed," said Moss of the final 400 meters of her memorable Ironman finish. "I was being transformed into someone who felt like I deserved to be thinking of myself as someone who was good at something."
Moss was introduced by sports broadcaster Jim Lampley, who worked for ABC's "Wide World of Sports" and exuded emotion as he recalled how the event made a lasting impression. "People in edit rooms were blown away," Lampley said. "We knew we had to get it on the air in exactly the right way."
LeStrange, who was honored for her phenomenal success as an age-group athlete, joked that she went to Kona for the Ironman for a vacation. In her career, she competed in 24 Ironman events, winning 14. "Winning was never everything," LeStrange told the audience. "It was always the goal to go out there, do the best you can and always cross the finish line smiling."
Though she may be best known for her Ironman wins, LeStrange shared her experiences from her time served on the USA Triathlon Age-Group Commission and national and world championships. The camaraderie of Team USA is fantastic and this is just about as close I can get to the Olympics and feeling like the Olympics," she said.
Bob Babbitt, inducted into the Hall of Fame last year in San Diego, remembered Jim MacLaren as a man who set out to change perceptions. For MacLaren, "it wasn't about being accepted," Babbitt said. "It was about showing that someone with a prosthetic could do anything."
MacLaren's left leg was amputated below the knee following a 1985 accident, and through his rehabilitation he discovered triathlon and a welcoming community. He finished the 1989 Ironman Hawaii in 10 hours, 42 minutes - a record that stood for 11 years, before a second accident left MacLaren a quadriplegic. He passed away in 2010.
"I would sit in the audience and watch people listen to Jim," said MacLaren's brother John, who accepted the award on his behalf. "I would watch people listen to him tell a story, and they would start to change. People would start to get connected. They would connect to Jim first, and then they'd connect to themselves. It was so impressive to me."
The USA Triathlon Hall of Fame was founded in 2008, and this year's class brings the total number of inductees to 22. Visit usatriathlon.org for more information on the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.
Photo Credit: Missy LeStrange, John MacLaren and Julie Moss. (Paul Phillips/Competitive Image)