As the sport of triathlon gained in popularity Scott turned pro in 1983. Between those early years and his move back to the amateur ranks in 1999, Tinley competed in over 400 triathlons, winning close to 100 of them, making him one of the top three winning triathletes of all time.
He won the Ironman World Championship twice (1982, 1985) and the Ironman World Series three times. He was inducted into both the Triathlon and Ironman Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1999.
Near the end of his professional career he helped found and develop the sport of offroad triathlon and continues to co-own and manage the longest running offroad triathlon in the world, Scott Tinley’s Adventures in San Luis Obispo, California.
Scott Tinley's Website
Who We Are
Multisport athletes don’t have to look like cover models from some cheesy sex-and-abs magazine. You just have to be comfortable in your own skin however logo-d or clear.
by Scott Tinley
Ironman World Champion, 1982 & 1985
Ironman Hall of Famer; Triathlon Hall of Famer
Met a guy at a stoplight last week. We were both on bicycles, separated by motive, ideology, and intent. He looked very fast standing still in his aero-ensemble. I felt slow but satisfied on a fender-ed and racked 3-speed. The obvious difference was in the number of logos. I wondered if he knew the history of the corporate brands that speckled his jersey. We spoke.
“Triathlete?” I inquired.
“Long distance specialist,” he returned without moving his head.
“Soon,” the words powered by commitment and enough carbon fiber to armor a battalion.
“Good luck,” I offered.
“Don’t need it.”
“Knock yourself out, Brother.”
His hair was the color and texture of straw and matched his personality—shiny at noon and dull after dark. He reminded me of a sun-faded photograph that sits in the window sill of your grandmother’s town home, never collecting dust but unable to avoid the attention of solar radiation. I tried to like him but he appeared to be living in his own realty TV show. And I just didn’t feel like watching.
A few days later, I was on the same bike, different stoplight. Another cyclist, another intersection of time, space, and reason. A middle-aged woman whose sparing use of spandex suggested control and taste. There were the requisite aero bars but I hadn’t seen her use them.
“Triathlete?” I asked.
“Well, I do try but I don’t know that I have earned the label.” She turned and looked at me, lowering her prescription sunglasses.
“Is there something that you have to do to be uh…accepted?”
“Well,” she studied her response, “it’s that whole Ironman thing, you know; there’s a chasm between those who have and those who haven’t.”
“Be careful what you ask for,” I offered as the light turned green.
* * *
Sports will introduce you to many people, some almost-famous, some mostly infamous, some just regular physical beings. Some are the types to espouse their philosophy on a bumper sticker. Others you might ride with for five hours and not know their true gender. And even though some of the people I remember from my three decades in triathlon are lost to time and tide, some are as close as opening a window and asking if anyone wants to go for a ride. They are the same, only very different. I remember them as I would anything loved, lost, discarded, or forgotten; at times rolling their memory out to remind me of some damn good times and on other occasions, squashing the details back in the box when they come calling in the middle of the night.
The number of triathletes worldwide might be reaching seven figures by now; a level that challenges any attempt at demographic typecasting. At those levels, sewing any common thread is a dangerous leap—a million people, a million types. But there must be some familiar fabric to our wants if not our needs. We are all slippery when wet. Risking the oppression of stereotype, what might be said about our collective tendencies? The common denominators that count us endurance athletes? That count us in, out, or in-between? By anecdotal observation alone, is there mutuality to our tribe of triathletes?
Consider the all too familiar traits, the good, the bad, and the ugly: We can be selfish with our time, possessed with a single-minded inward focus, preening and vainglorious in our outward display. Maybe we like our toys too much and carry too little concern about skin cancer. We have a history of neon spandex, mullets, and tasteless tattoos. Extended periods in the aero position has given rise to our new drug-of-choice—Advil.
But we can also challenge any notion of can’t and use our expanded energy to enable those that are faced with life’s hurdles. We have contributed to society in our various roles. We tend to like other athletes. We know how to party after a race. We are inspirational.
Mostly though, and I can’t prove it, we appear to be looking for something greater in our lives through sport. For nearly forty years now there have been a cadre of dentists and sales clerks and welders and loan brokers and students and shop-keepers who emerge from the seams of their chosen professions on Wednesday afternoons and Sunday mornings and, though they might not be able to define or spell it, look for and find something called transcendence—that intangible feeling that what you are doing is actually moving you someplace other than where you are.
Maybe it’s a bit of a romantic notion but I like to think of endurance athletes as modern gypsies who can be cunning and driven but whose passion for life takes them well beyond the physical and mental confines that others are imprisoned within. We are restless bordering on frenetic. But we can sleep like the dead. We might consume a lot but we are just as apt to produce. We are the same but different. Some assembly is required but we are rarely void where prohibited.
We are many things but we are not Thoreau’s mass of men living in states of quiet desperation.
People say we can’t jump or think laterally. And that may be true if your training lands you in a linear world. But by virtue of its very definition, multisport offers you the chance to multiply and divide your sporting interests. And fortunately, there is still some fluidity to our self-identification. An Ironman does not an off-roader make.
We have trouble with rules. That’s why I don’t keep score when playing golf. With all that green around you, why should you have to hit it towards one hole at a time in sequential order? Ridiculously but fascinating game.
If nothing else, triathletes are like a bunch of grown up kids on a grand scavenger hunt where each ride or run might offer you some kind of experience that goes into your pocket and when dumped on the floor back at the party, what you remember is not the pain or the benefit or who got to the top of the hill first but something individual and personal that came with the trip.
Multisport athletes don’t have to look like cover models from some cheesy sex-and-abs magazine. You just have to be comfortable in your own skin however logo-d or clear. And only you can know what that feels like and what you’re supposed to do with it.
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