Judy Collins, Forever Changed The Face Of Open Water

Judy Collins, Forever Changed The Face Of Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Judy Collins is one of those rare individuals who are known for more than one great thing in the annals of open water swimming history.

Collins was not only the first woman to swim from one Hawaiian island to another, but she was also instrumental in introducing open water swimming to millions of people around the world through the sport of triathlon.

Collins swam from Lanai to Maui across the Maui Channel on Mother’s Day in May 1977 together with Bob Justman and Bob Luce. Her timer and chief shark-spotter at the time was her husband, U.S. Navy Commander John Collins.

Soon thereafter, John and Judy were about to forever change the sport of open water swimming.

During an awards banquet for the Waikiki Swim Club, Commander Collins and Judy issued a challenge to the swimmers, cyclists and runners on Oahu: Who is the toughest one of all?

The husband-and-wife team combined the three longest swimming, cycling and running races on Oahu into one race: known as the Ironman triathlon. In February 1978, 15 competitors, including Commander Collins, came to the shores of Waikiki to consecutively attempt the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112-mile Around Oahu Bike Race, and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon.

We had high waves and lots of rain which made cycling very difficult, especially since cycling was a new discipline for many runners and swimmers,” recalls Judy. “It really wasn’t the best time of the year but we did it anyway. Eighteen people showed up, but since it was looking pretty unpleasant out there on the water only fifteen started, three dropped out for one reason or another and twelve racers eventually finished the race.”

She will be honored by USA Triathlon and inducted into its Hall of Fame this year as a Contributor. A member of the Coronado Masters Association in Coronado, California who also lives in Panama, she served as support crew for his husband and as the co-race director of the 1978 and 1979 Ironman Triathlons.

As they handled the logistics and operations of those first two Ironman events, they set the groundwork and established the vision of what the sport would become. Triathlon would later literally draw millions of people to the oceans, lakes, and rivers around the world. Looking back in history, the pair has enabled the sport of open water swimming to grow like few imagined possible in the 20th century. Wetsuit or bioprene, marathon swimmer or multi-sport athlete, warm or cold, rough or calm, Judy and John Collins helped pave the way for millions to challenge themselves beyond the shore.

Together with Tom Warren, Mike Pigg, and Madonna Buder, John and Judy comprise the sixth induction class of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. “We are deeply honored to announce the 2013 inductees into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame,” said Jon Gray Noll, chairman of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Committee. “These five individuals truly embrace every aspect of the genesis of our sport – founder, elite competitor, pioneer, age-group athlete and innovator. Each person’s contribution and commitment has formed the bedrock upon which today’s triathlon competition thrives. To enshrine them in the Hall of Fame serves to confirm this legacy.”

The five inductees will be honored on June 26th in Chicago to open the ITU World Triathlon Chicago race weekend.

John and Judy Collins – USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Contributors (Coronado, California)
Creators of the Ironman Triathlon in 1978 in Hawaii, John and Judy Collins served as race directors of the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii in 1978-79. The pair are Ironman finishers themselves, John completing the 1978 Ironman and Judy participating in the 2003 Ironman Revisited on the original Oahu course. Both competed in the first-ever triathlon in the U.S. in San Diego in 1974 along with their 12- and 13-year-old children. Taken with the sport, they convinced their masters swim coach to start the longest-running triathlon in the world (Coronado Optimist Sports Fiesta Triathlon in 1975). They were inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 1998.

USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Inductees include, by class, the following:

Judy Flannery (Age-Group Athlete)
Jon Gray Noll (Contributor)
Verne Scott (Contributor)
Karen Smyers (Elite Athlete)
Sheila Taormina (Elite Athlete)

Jim Curl (Contributor)
Barb Lindquist (Elite Athlete)
Paula Newby-Fraser (Elite Athlete)
Valerie Silk (Contributor)
Carl Thomas (Contributor)

Susan Bradley-Cox (Age-Group Athlete)
Dave McGillivray (Contributor)
Dave Scott (Elite Athlete)

Mark Allen (Elite Athlete)
Ethel Autorino (Age-Group Athlete)
Bob Babbitt (Contributor)
Sally Edwards (Contributor)
Scott Molina (Elite Athlete)
Scott Tinley (Elite Athlete)
Missy LeStrange (Age-Group Athlete)
Jim MacLaren (Contributor)
Julie Moss (Contributor)

Madonna Buder (Age-Group Athlete)
John Collins (Contributor)
Judy Collins (Contributor)
Mike Pigg (Elite Athlete)
Tom Warren (Contributor)

Second photo shows the Collins family, John, Judy, Michael and Kristin.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones