By Tom Demerly.
When he started, no one thought he could do it: Complete 50 Ironman distance triathlons in 50 states in 50 days. But he’s done it. And in doing so, he’s changed our concept of what is possible. He is James Lawrence from Utah, 38 years old; The Iron Cowboy.
Ironman has become a tattoo, a brand and an object of conspicuous consumption. A logo on a warehouse club fleece jacket bought after a race.
Before that, back on a beach in Hawaii on February 18, 1978, it was something else. And thanks to Iron Cowboy, it gets back to its roots of pushing through barriers rather than stopping at them to buy a logo-ed jacket and get a tattoo.
Iron Cowboy ran straight through all the marketing. Knocked down the barriers. He reminds us that Anything is Possible. And he did it without the licensing fees and waiting lists. He really Just Did It. The finish line is also tomorrow’s start line. It really isn’t over when it’s over. It’s only over when we stop.
One of the things he demonstrated is that we’ve been pretty lazy, pretty complacent, somewhat petty and oddly “consumer-ish” in our approach to Endurance sports. We just want the tattoo. And fleece jacket. And hat. And bumper sticker. And license plate. And bike number. And…
Ironman built it, and we bought it. Until The Cowboy, it had gotten stagnant, the needle stuck at 140.6.
There are longer races, there are harder races; Marathon des Sables is one. But without the mega promotion and the TV deals and the brand licensing they have remained off the everyman’s radar.
Iron Cowboy ran around the outside of the licensing fees that have been attached to the use of any reference to The Full Distance and made a mockery of dots and “M”s and tattoos. And in doing so he undid, in 50 days, what has taken nearly four decades to do. He reminds us that human limits exist only in our minds. That, unless we continue to push our concept of limits, that wet blanket we call “impossible” begins to settle heavily over us.
When Ironman Hawaii started it was also thought to be impossible by some, injurious by most. Now finishing Ironman is commonplace. It isn’t easy, but it is common.
So The Cowboy just raised the bar. And while Ironman, just one, lowly Ironman done in good conditions after months of training, good nutrition and careful tapering, is somehow made “smaller” in context by James Lawrence, the “Iron Cowboy”, it also remains a significant challenge.
But now we are reminded that there are many accomplishments beyond the finish line at Ironman, and that there is much more to our capabilities than logos or tattoos.