The 12 finishers of the original Hawaii Ironman Triathlon and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Class XII include:
• Gordon Haller
• John Dunbar
• Dave Orlowski
• Ian Emberson
• Sterling Lewis
• Tom Knoll
• Henry Forrest
• Frank Day
• John Collins
• Archie Hapai
• Dan Hendrickson
• Harold Irving
About the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Class XII and original 1978 Hawaii Ironman Triathlon:
The original “Iron Man” — as it was called then — was the creation of Judy and John Collins, members of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Induction Class VI, who had participated in the Mission Bay Triathlon in San Diego in 1974, known as the start of modern triathlon in the U.S. Their goal with the event was to create an endurance sports challenge combining swimming, biking and running that offered athletes the opportunity to race longer than anything they’d done before.
The last page of a three-page rule book written by Judy and John Collins and given to each Hawaii Ironman Triathlon race participant reads the now famous tagline: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!”
Fifteen competitors — with their own support crews and no aid stations — started the race on Feb. 18, 1978 on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i with the chance to complete the event and brag for the rest of their lives. Twelve finished, led by Gordon Haller, John Dunbar and Dave Orlowski.
Archie Hapai recorded the day’s fastest swim split in a time of 57 minutes, 35 seconds, followed closely by Ian Emberson, who was a member of the Waikiki Swim Club. Hapai, then a 31-year-old student at the University of Hawaii and a decorated Vietnam veteran, Hapai entered the race after a DNF during a 26-mile open water swim a month prior.
“I don’t remember all of the reasons I did the [Ironman], but not finishing the Molokai to Oahu swim along with the faith of my fellow club swimmers probably had something to do with it,” Hapai said in previous interviews.
Then a 27-year-old Navy Communications Specialist, Haller rode the day’s fastest bike split in 6 hours, 56 seconds to cut into Dunbar’s lead. Dunbar, then a 24-year-old former U.S. Navy SEAL, started the run with a 13-minute lead.
Haller ran a 3 hour, 30 minute marathon along the race route to Honolulu's Kapiolani Park, where he finished in the quiet evening without spectators, TV cameras or a public-address announcer screaming his name — far different than the spectacle of today’s IRONMAN World Championships.
He earned the inaugural victory in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds and would go on to finish more than 20 IRONMAN events.
“We were just a bunch of ordinary guys who decided to do it. And other people saw that and decided to do it, too,” Haller said in a previous interview about the race.
Orlowski, then a 22-year-old U.S. Marines veteran, finished third in 13 hours, 59 minutes, 13 seconds. He famously rode the bike in a pair of cut-off jean shorts so he could carry cash in his pockets to buy food and drinks during the ride. He’d go on to race 29 IRONMAN events and frequently spoke about the impact triathlon had on his life. Orlowski passed away in 2020 after a lengthy battle with leukemia.
“It does so much for people, and it’s done so much for me in building my life,” Orlowski said in a previous interview. “When you cross that finish line … it changes your life.”
After the inaugural race, the original 12 competitors would go on to accomplish many other feats in and out of endurance sports.
A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Tom Knoll finished sixth at the inaugural race. He’d go on to run nearly 200 marathons and ultra-marathons and twice led cross-country charity runs. In 1983, Knoll ran across the U.S. for the Sunshine Foundation and in 2008, he and his son Warren ran 3,300 miles coast to coast in the Freedom Run Across America to support Challenge Athletes Foundation, Wounded Warrior Foundation and the Sunshine Foundation. Knoll passed away in 2018.
Henry Forrest, who finished seventh in the race, completed five more IRONMANs and retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after serving 20 years and reaching the rank of first sergeant. Forrest passed away in 2008 from pancreatic cancer.
A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Frank Day, finished eighth and would go on to invent the cycling training tool, Power Cranks.