First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to be a part of this interview…

Stef, It’s a pleasure to chat with you and sending you all the best for the launch of the website for women in triathlon.

Oh shux… Thanks! 
This year marks the 30th year since your infamous finish to the 1982 Hawaiian Ironman World Championships. 30 years on, can you still watch that footage?

Sure, actually it gets easier as time goes by.

 Is your response to the footage different to that of 30 years ago?

I used to get so embarrassed, I mean at 23 you’re still pretty self-conscious and being a hot chocolate mess in front of millions is tragic and humiliating. 30 years later I’m less connected with how it looked and more tuned into to how it felt. Now I’m just amazed at the go for it attitude that got me to the start line in the first place! In retrospect my race now symbolizes how fearless I was to even consider taking on an Ironman and how I didn’t see limits. It was, and still is, a milestone in my life and even though it was so far from the ideal image I wanted broadcast, I’ve grown to love what that image represented then and now.

Speaking of how you didn’t see limits, you took part in a very interesting piece that Radiolab conducted, titled, “Limits of the Body” (see below). You said something that really stood out to me. You were reminiscing of that moment when you realised that you were leading this race. YOU – Julie Moss, a 23 year old Physical Education student, who was racing as part of a Physiological experiment in order to graduate, had never really thought of yourself as an athlete, and had never completed the swim and bike distances in training! It was at that moment that something clicked with you and you said to yourself, “I’m good at something! And. Somebody’s trying to take it away from me.” Referring to Kathleen McCarthy, who was in second place at that point. You had all of a sudden become very attached to that number one spot. This, to me, sounds similar to the notion of super-human strength that people get when it comes to protecting things close to them – like the old stories of a mother who can lift a car off their child to save/protect them. Was it that mechanism that made you push your body to limits you never thought possible?

I think you are referring to a flight or fight response? No, that wasn’t it, although it felt primal in as much as it was springing up from somewhere deep inside me. I’d had hours to start imagining myself winning and as the miles wound down, and the finish line loomed closer and closer, I was damned if I was going to hand it over to Kathleen. I was starting to own my race and I was willing to fight in a way I’d never experienced. Different from a fear of losing, the concept that I was good at something was a much more powerful motivator to keep trying.

 Apart from some of the classic Disney movies, or even television shows like Australian Idol (American Idol – same/same), I’m not sure I know of many other times where 2nd place’s notoriety is higher than the person who claimed the top of the podium. But, your performance was one of the pivotal moments in triathlon history, and definitely helped put women in triathlon on the map. How does that make you feel? How has this event changed your life?

In fact Stef, I don’t think of my race as infamous anymore, I think it’s iconic and something to be proud of and that concept alone has taken years to embrace. The race changed how I looked at my life!  I knew deep down that my ability to push myself was way beyond anything I thought possible. So what else was there that I was underestimating about myself? My limits were uncapped. I’d discovered and tapped into a hidden source of self-esteem… and I liked it!


What do you think you’d be doing today, if (a) you ate that Snickers Bar on the bike, or (b) never entered that race to, in your words, “to take the easy way out” as a requirement for your graduation?

Stef, that’s a good question.  The Snickers Bar certainly would have given me the win!

Ok file that answer in case I’m offered the Snickers sponsorship! (Noted… I’ll send them a copy)

In all honesty my life would have taken a very different turn, which mostly likely would have involved teaching and I probably wouldn’t have tapped into my endurance til much later. But I believe I would’ve tapped into my natural affinity for endurance in one way or another, if not triathlon then something.

 What happened to you immediately after the race, and in the days/weeks following? How long did it take for your body to recover? And were there any long-term effects from pushing yourself so hard?

The ABC Sports TV crew graciously let me go take a shower before they did their post race interview. No visits to the med tent, no IV’s, just a shower and then off to find a burger and chocolate shake. The tradition of coming back to the finish line for the final finisher hadn’t started yet, but I doubt I could’ve made it back down to the finish at midnight.  I was falling asleep a few bites into my burger.

There weren’t any long-term physical effects.

 After that race, when was your next Ironman? How was your approach to these subsequent races?

The Ironman was officially changed to October right after that ’82 race so my very next Ironman rolled around only 8 months later. I shifted my training for that October Ironman so I felt better prepared but I was now under the gun to prove that the Feb race wasn’t a fluke and I deserved to be considered a favorite to win. Of course I went out way too hard on the bike and blew up on the run and finished 14th.

It wasn’t until I came out of retirement in ’97 and raced Ironman Australia as my qualifier folowed by Kona in October that I finally put together consecutive Ironman races that I was really happy with. Happy with the effort and the result.. I thought those  2 races would be the punctuation mark on my career but, turns out the punctuation was a coma. Now I’m back training for the 30th anniversary of my debut Ironman and  this time I’ll be joined by Kathleen McCartney, the woman who passed me a few yards from the finish to win the ’82 Ironman title. Kathleen and I have become good friends and training partners. We’ll be heading to Kona, not as a reunion of rivals, but coming together to celebrate 30 years in the sport, our friendship,  and racing together as teammates.

How are you involved with Ironman and triathlons these days?

I’ve been a race announcer for the past 9 years with TriCalifornia, Events Inc. We are well known for our Wildflower Triathlon, the Woodstock of triathlons, a 3-day festival of races where everyone camps out. Very retro and cool. Our half Ironman has been the launching pad for many Ironman Champions like Chris Legh and Macca to name some Aussie locals. I’m actually going to race the Olympic this year at Wildflower in celebration of their 30th anniversary. I can’t believe it’s been 9 years since I’ve race a tri.

What does the term “Ironman” mean to you?

Milestone/ Game Changer.

The journey from the time you commit til you cross the finish is an experience that will change your life. You’ll discover amazing things about yourself that will only come out under the extreme conditions of an endurance event like Ironman. Buckle up it’s a wild ride.

Thank you so much again for taking the time out to be involved. It truly was an honour to chat to you, and we’re looking forward to seeing how your Wildflower race goes, and then of course you and Kathleen in Kona once again. Any parting words of wisdom for budding triathletes out there?

First off, it’s really GREAT to recognise that you are taking time for yourself, no small feat when you consider how busy life already is. Taking on triathlons, a sport with three disciplines, again not the easiest choice, so take small steps and enjoy the big learning curve ahead of you. You’re doing triathlons for yourself, so be kind and compassionate. Avoid the trap of comparing yourself to others and focus on your own progress and commitment. Only you know where you started, how far you’ve come and how jammed packed your life already is!

With that foundation laid, now go for it! Find some good training partners that will support and encourage you. Try and use organised workouts like masters swimming and group rides to motivate you. Compliment your training with yoga for flexibility and strength. And sign up for a race, commitment to an event will give your training clear focus. Most of all have fun and appreciate the fact that with big challenge comes big reward so hang in there and we’ll see you at the finish line!


Check out Radiolab’s Podcast, Limits of the Body

About The Author

Stef Hanson. Chief.

Chief and founder of WITSUP

Serious about what I do, but don’t take myself too seriously

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2 Responses

  1. Grace macpherson

    Such an amazing woman! I can’t believe she did it as part of her university assignment and almost won it!
    I love the picture too, the sport has come a long way technologically!
    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful article with us :)
    Grace xx

  2. Glitterbomb

    I have read this interview about 10 times now. Julie Moss is a deadset legend!! Her candour and enthusiasm for the sport is so inspiring!!!

    Thanks so much for an incredible article!!! Love Mossy!!!


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