LIHUE — One down, 49 to go.
The YMCA of Kauai opened its pool at midnight on Saturday so that “Iron Cowboy” James Lawrence could swim the first 2.4 miles in his attempt to bring attention to the problem of childhood obesity and diabetes by completing 50 Ironman-distance triathlons in 50 days, in 50 states.
“This is surreal for me. I’m definitely ready. Totally in the moment,” Lawrence said, shortly before starting the unprecedented feat of human endurance and strength.
A small crowd of people turned out to support Lawrence, including Kauai resident Jim Bankert who got in the pool to swim a few laps alongside him. Bankert recently ran a half-Ironman and is training for a full Ironman in July.
Head lifeguard John Norman said it was important for the YMCA to help with the effort.
“What he’s doing is special and unique and we’re supporting it any way we can,” said Norman, whose son Kai, 11, also swam laps alongside Lawrence.
Lawrence completed the first leg of his triathlon faster than planned, finishing 170 laps in the pool in just over an hour. The biking portion didn’t go quite as smoothly — he got three flat tires while riding 112 miles in the dark, and was pulled over by the police. He then ran a full marathon, on a route that took him by the Lihue Airport.
Lawrence needed to start his first triathlon so early in the morning due to the time difference between Hawaii and his next stop in Alaska, where he will run his second triathlon before flying to Washington state to run his third triathlon in three days. After that, he and his family will travel in a motorhome across the country so he can sleep while traveling between states.
Lawrence said the best part of taking a vacation in Kauai before starting this attempt was being able to just relax and spend time with his family by the pool.
“The energy here is amazing,” Lawrence said.