An Open Letter to Ironman World Championship Athletes


Dear Athletes,

Congratulations on making it out here and welcome to the Kona side of Hawai`i  island! I write to you with great respect and admiration for your determination and hard work in qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in our humble town of Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i. As a triathlete myself, I tried to qualify, but was not quick enough. I have a lot of respect for you all. Stemming from this appreciation, as a public school teacher and Kona-resident for the past three years, I want to share what I have learned from the community.

As part of the small, but tight-knit, triathlete community, I must emphasize that we athletes live here. Those of us who have the privilege to train and race here at anytime, are seen by community members as part of the Hawai`i-island triathlete `ohana.  When everyone goes home, we are still here. The impact made on our residents, before, during and after the Ironman, by visiting athletes and their support systems, carries over to us local-athletes throughout the year. Although we mostly train as individuals, we represent athletes everywhere once we put on our gear and train outside. This is equally true for me when I have the privilege of participating in triathlon in other cities and countries. Please keep that in mind leading up to the “Big Dance.”

This is intended to voice some of the friendly suggestions of my colleagues, elders or kupuna, and greater `ohana out of respect for our sacred island we call home. What I share here is intended to help you have a positive preparation for the race, filled with aloha and cooperation.

Short Version

Big Ideas: Cultural Sensitivity, Safety, and Environment

  • Cycling
    • Obey all traffic rules
      • Use the bike lane/shoulder whenever possible and safe
      • Do not ride tandem (side-by-side) if the bike lane cannot fit you both
      • Do not take over the road unless it is out of a concern for safety
      • Stop at stop signs and red lights
      • Use hand signals to indicate if you are turning or changing lanes
    • Do not urinate in public view (especially if there are bathrooms nearby)
    • Call out when passing other cyclists (“On your left!)
    • Use lights at all times of day
    • There is a lot of construction going on on the Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway , watch the elevated bike lane and be patient with drivers navigating new lights and lanes
    • When cycling south to Captain Cook, the Ali`i Bypass road (wide shoulder) is much safer than taking Mamalahoa Highway (no shoulder)
    • Wave back, smile or nod and show aloha to athletes and motorists! A simple gesture of acknowledgement and kindness can go a long way
  • Public Facilities
    • Track and Fields
      • Be aware of the student athletes and sports teams that have priority use of all track and fields
      • Use during non-school hours (School hours: 8:15am-2:30pm. Note: Oct. 9-13 is Fall Break and school is out of session)
      • Do not deck-change at the track and fields
      • Be courteous to sports teams, families, and students
    • Pools
      • Shower off before use
      • Locals use these pools daily after work; consider this when timing your workouts
      • Elders, families, and children use these pools regularly; please swim with aloha
    • Pier swimming

Long Version

This island is a home. It is home to over 200,000 residents. We have families here dating back generations to the precolonial occupation. We also have new residents who just moved here to start a new life as well. Most of us live here permanently and for some of us, the race can change our lifestyle in significant ways.

The greatest impact on the average resident here is the cycling. Clearly this is essential to get in road rides out here for weeks before the race. Please follow the rules of the road while here. We need to respect the road signs and stop lights. When we roll through these, it says to our Kona residents that we as athletes are above the law. This leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths. It is also incredibly dangerous, and can turn a simple training-ride into tragedy. Let’s show that we are stopping and indicate our turns with an appropriate hand signal when lane-changing or turning. Other rules of the road need to be followed of course; no littering, no urinating on the side of the road if there is a bathroom nearby. Wearing lights and using them even during the day will help alert drivers and other athletes of your presence. Keep them charged and use them as often as you can!

We need to ride safe for our fellow cyclists as well. We have locals who like to casually ride year-round. They aren’t training like all of us, so they may get startled when you fly by at 50km/h and don’t say a thing. Please call out, “On your left!” or something to alert them. We also need to make sure that we’re not clogging up the bike lane. When we hear someone call out, let’s get out of riding tandem (side-by-side) and fall in line so that they can pass without going into the road. At no time, should we be taking over the road if our safety is not at risk. That is, don’t ride tandem out of the shoulder, just so you can chat to your buddy. Drivers hate that. Without risking your safety, stay in the shoulder and bike lane as much as possible.

A for the roads themselves. The Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway is under heavy construction. Be aware of the elevated bike lanes. It’s navigable, but sometimes a little tricky. Do not overtake riders in construction zones. The shoulders are narrow and motorists are also new to the recent, reconfiguration of the lanes. Watch out for drivers who are still getting used to this as well. Another new road has opened up since the last race as well. The Ali`i Bypass road which allows us to avoid the Mamalahoa Highway when traveling between Keahou Shopping Center and Napo`opo`o Road, is much safer. It has a wide shoulder in both directions. This road is highly recommended when traveling south from Kona.

In Kona, there are only so many riders. Every time I ride, I wave. I see others wave to each other and in a small town, we all know each other. So we wave back. Waving or acknowledging our fellow athletes goes a long way. You could change someone’s entire day by a simple gesture. Unless you’re doing intervals with your head down, please be friendly back.  It’s fun to ride happy.

In light of acknowledging our fellow athletes around us, let’s recognize that there are student club-sports and high-school sports teams that use the track and fields year round. Currently football, cross-country, and cheerleading are in full swing. They are using the track and fields. So if you come to the track and field at our high schools, be aware of the students around us. We are their guests at their place of learning and athletic facilities. Do not deck-change on the track. Do not disrespect the track and run through their practices. If they are using it, just go around them. High School track and fields are open to the public during non-school hours (8:15am-2:30pm). There are bathrooms down at the Konawaena track that are single-occupancy that you can use anytime. Kealakehe High School locker rooms are open after school. When in doubt, ask a supervising adult on the premise before using any locker rooms. Be aware that there are coaches, students, children, and elders that use our facilities and remember to show them aloha.

When swimming at our pools, you’ve probably noticed how congested it can be. When it’s so congested, it can get dirty quick. Shower off before your swim please. Especially us sweaty athletes that just did a hard brick before hand. Many of us locals swim there right after work so keep that in mind when timing your swims. Lots of families, aunties, and uncles use the pool so don’t get too upset if you have to slow down every once in a while. Our pools are free and happy places to de-stress and feel good! Let’s keep them that way.

When swimming at the pier or other beaches, remember that your sunscreen is likely damaging the coral reefs. Oxybenzone is a chemical found to be causing coral bleaching. Consider using reef-friendly sunscreens. Here is a list. Rubbing in your sunscreen also makes it more effective for you and will not come off so easily in the water.  If you shower off at the pier after your swim, please do not get naked in public. Please also consider the type of shampoo and soap you are using. It goes directly into the ocean. Using organic body-care products and ocean-friendly products is best for our sensitive waters.

Thank you for being an inspiration to us all. You are role-modeling to our keiki and to athletes around the world on how to be culturally-responsive and also to be killer athletes. I admire you for having an open mind and heart to a new place and culture.

With the warmest aloha,

David Wild


7 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Ironman World Championship Athletes

  1. Brit Horn says:

    Thank you for this David! You’re an inspiration and we appreciate your time for writing this. Keep up the training – Kona will be at the finish line when you do your first Iron Man World Championship.
    -Brit Horn (Woody and Aviva’s friend)

  2. Cynthia Nazara says:

    Thank you for these great advice
    We that work on the Queen Kaahumanu phase 2 widening, have given this a lot of thought regarding our sensitivity of our culture. So therefore we have put together a cultural sensitivity training sheet for each of the triathlon participants and volunteers to read and sign in regards to having respect for our aina and to malama na aina
    Mahalo for caring

  3. Tara Carver Brown says:

    Thank you for this. I do hope the Ironman organization shares this information with the athletes in their own language – maybe someone can encourage this. Driving on the roads these 2 weeks in Kona is terrifying and very frustrating – every year I’m certain I’m going to see a rider die on Palani as they cruise by stopped backed up traffic going 30-40 miles an hour with little to no shoulder. Today Ironman routed their group ride through Holualoa during pau hana elementary school time. I know Ironman planned it as the guy directing the athletes at Palani Junction said they were told to ride on Mamalahoa as Queen K isn’t safe right now. I was behind pelotons of 15-20 bikes with no safe way to pass for miles and athletes directing me to go around when there was oncoming traffic. The organization needs to do a better job of planning and educating athletes or it is going to cost one of the athletes or our citizens their life.

  4. Heidi Hutch says:

    Mahalo for sharing this very helpful information (especially about the high school track hours) and nuances of being in this community, can’t believe I am here to race the IM WC and it’s an honor to be here

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