CARLSBAD — It thrust a new sport into the global consciousness, changed the lives of many and made a Carlsbad native a legend.
Julie Moss’ iconic collapse at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in 1982 redefined the sport and what an individual will sacrifice just to finish a race. Moss was only 15 feet away from winning the race as a massive underdog, but in those final steps and with cameras from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” rolling, her body had enough.
She crawled the final 15 feet with a drive she never once thought imaginable and captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers across the U.S. and the world. Legendary sportscaster, the late Jim McKay said it was “the greatest show of courage in the history of ‘Wide World of Sports.’”
On Oct. 13, she returns to Kona for her final Ironman after a legendary career and at age 60. Ten days before the race, she held a book signing after the release of her memoir, “Crawl of Fame,” which she co-authored with Robert Yehling, author of more than a dozen books and longtime friend.
“It’s like making a quilt,” Moss, a resident of Cardiff, said. “I gave him little squares and the way he arranged them … it was real craftsmanship. It was fun to see my stories come to life in my voice, he captured my voice.”
Moss and Yehling met in 1971 at Valley Middle School in Carlsbad, and five years ago Yehling approached Moss about writing her story. She declined. Two years ago, though, she knew it was time and the two crafted a memoir steeped in emotion and one of the most captivating moments in American sports history.
Her story also jump-started the career of journalist Armen Keteyian after he wrote what was later the Sporting News’ “Sports Feature of the Year” on Moss’ race. Keteyian was then hired by Sports Illustrated and has since reported for “60 Minutes” and “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” on HBO.
But Moss’ story is one of drive and determination, she said. As wayward college student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, she decided to do her senior project on the Ironman.
At first, it was just a project where she would travel to Kona and watch the race. But then she decided to actually compete with 579 other athletes in this obscure sport created just four years earlier.
“We always had these intersections in our life,” Yehling explained. “I said I absolutely want to do this book with you. A lot of sports stories is about performance … that’s window dressing here. The real story begins when she is laying spread out across the finish line and had this epiphany that was far greater than herself that she just had contact with.”
Yehling, meanwhile, was itching to join his friend in writing her story. Finally, when Moss agreed, the two went for a deep, honest and truthful look into her life since 1982, which included personal stories such as her divorce.
Yehling said it was important the reader know Moss is being honest and not dodging the tough experiences through life. However, the story is one of empowerment, drive, determination and never giving up, even when the body does.
It’s one reason so many connected with Moss back in 1982 during the broadcast. ABC received thousands of calls and Moss and the race winner, Kathleen McCartney, were interviewed by McKay on the show weeks later.
During the book signing, Robert Munger a friend of Yehling and graduate of Carlsbad High School, said the book was a great read. Moss’ story, Munger added, was one of inspiration, courage and perseverance.
“It’s amazing she fell and immediately got back up because her mind and heart said keep going,” he said. “Somehow she got across that finish line. It’s a great story.”
Moss’ story is so deep, riveting and emotional, no wonder it took a book to tell it.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.