John and Judy Collins, founders of the Ironman Triathlon, attended the 40th anniversary of the event in 2018. (Submitted photo)

John and Judy Collins, founders of the Ironman Triathlon, attended the 40th anniversary of the event in 2018. (Submitted photo)

A piece of Ironman triathlon touches Whidbey event

Some competitors in the 23rd annual Whidbey Island Triathlon Saturday, July 27, might consider the event a stepping stone to competing in the world’s most famous triathlon, the Ironman in Hawaii.

If that’s the case, they had the opportunity to personally thank those responsible for developing that ultimate three-discipline challenge.

Among the participants in last Saturday’s Whidbey Island Triathlon were Judy Collins and her children, Michael Collins and Kristin Galbreaith.

Judy and her husband John Collins helped spur the triathlon craze, founding the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii in 1978. The event, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, has spawned a series of similar races around the world. The Hawaii event is now considered the world championships.

The Whidbey Island race, which takes place at the southern end of the island, is a sprint triathlon with a half-mile swim, 19.5-mile bike ride and a 3.8-mile run.

Galbreaith moved to South Whidbey with her husband Scott in 2017, and she recruited her family to come compete with her in the Whidbey event, which was her first triathlon in 30 years. Galbreaith, however, was limited to just swimming Saturday because of a recent injury. John didn’t compete because “he has two new knees,” but Kristin and John did “bike around to cheer us on,” Judy said.

Michael, 57, finished second in his age group (55-60), and Judy, 80 and oldest competitor in the field, was third in hers (70-and over).

Galbreaith said she thought “it would be fun to do this beautiful and challenging triathlon as a family.”

“My mother and brother are frequent triathlon competitors, unlike me,” she added. “I know that they, like me, will enjoy swimming, biking and running while surrounded by the beauty of Whidbey Island.”

John and Judy now split their time between Coronado, Calif., and Panama City, where they founded their new priority, the Portobelo Triathlon, in 1998.

The first Ironman happened when Galbreaith was a senior in high school, and she then left Hawaii to attend the United States Naval Academy. While in the service she asked for time off to participate in the 1988 Ironman; her commanding officer said he never heard of it.

“When I arrived in Kona I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was one of about 30 or so active duty military participants there,” she said.

Galbreaith does not often compete in triathlons (only four) but does frequently swim with the South Whidbey Island Masters and Whidbey Open Water Swimmers.

“Swimming in the ocean around South Whidbey is something I enjoy immensely,” she said. “The water temperature is refreshing, the marine life is fascinating and the view from the water is spectacular.”

July 7 her brother joined her in the 11-mile Portland Bridge Swim.

As for biking, she said, “I’m finding I enjoy the challenge of riding on Whidbey and hope to do the Tour de Whidbey one day.”

The Collins family had a “habit of exercising for fun,” Michael Collins said. “We often planned family outings or vacations around athletic adventures, such as a 250-mile bicycle trip from Vallejo, Calif., to go hiking in Yosemite National Park in the summer of 1973.”

Michael and Kristin took up competitive swimming as youngsters and John and Judy joined a masters swimming group after the 1973 vacation.

In San Diego in 1974, the four family members where among the 47 competitors in the first modern triathlon.

“I remember running on the beach with my dad as he worked his way up to his first non-stop mile in over a decade,” Michael said.

Within two years, John and Judy were running marathons and completing the Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

Each family member also realized, the longer the event, the more successful they were.

“In that light, the idea of combining the Waikiki Roughwater, a round-the-island bike race and the Honolulu Marathon into a single event seems like a logical extension of playing to our own strengths,” Michael said. “The fact that others found the idea as appealing as we did continues to amaze and delight me.”

Michael has run more than 30 marathons and lost count of the number of triathlons.

“I’ve tried to represent the Collins family in Kona (at the Ironman) every five years since the 20th anniversary event in 1998, including the 40th anniversary edition this past October,” he said.

Michael visited his sister on South Whidbey last year and was stunned by the beauty of the island during a 40-mile bike ride.

“When Kristin asked if I would be interested in this year’s triathlon, the memory of those hills almost led me to beg off until my mom said she was in,” he said.

Like the early family vacations, this reunion was centered around a physical challenge.

“We had fun today,” Judy said Saturday evening. No word on how Michael liked biking the hills.

Michael Collins finishes the Ironman in 2018. He tries to respresent his family, the founders of the event, at the Ironman at least once every five years. (Submitted photo)

Michael Collins finishes the Ironman in 2018. He tries to respresent his family, the founders of the event, at the Ironman at least once every five years. (Submitted photo)

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