40 Stories – E Komo Mai – 2017
E Komo Mai is the Welcome Banquet held two nights before the IRONMAN World Championship. It’s an evening shared by thousands where the spirit of Hawaii is honored and the race to come is initiated.
It’s the first official gathering for all the athletes. They are welcomed and showered with the spirit of IRONMAN. The E Komo Mai Banquet is when everyone knows that all the preparation has been done and that something extraordinarily special is going to happen in two days time.
Traditional Hawaiian dance on stage celebrates the Island and the spirit of coming together. Words are spoken to honor the greatest parts of competition that help bring out the best in each competitor. It’s fun. But it’s also setting the stage for what’s to come, for the reason we are all there: the IRONMAN World Championship.
The E Komo Mai evening is held outside. You are in open air. You are not insulated in any way from the Island of Hawaii. And although there’s excited anticipation for what’s to come, there’s also nerves and anxiety.
But it’s beautiful. When you walk through the entryway where you show your wrist band acknowledging that you are either an athlete competing or someone in strong support of what’s about to happen, you feel like you have been granted access to something honored: a place that exists only here each year on this specific evening.
Helping create the bond between athlete and Island is a theme that changes each year. In 2017 the theme of the IRONMAN World Championship was “Aloha”.
There have been many great themes from Hawaiian lore and culture that have been the inspiration for the race. But this one seemed to be a true high point. Hawaii is Aloha. It’s the one Hawaiian word that likely anyone who has ever heard about the Islands knows. Yes, it’s hello and good bye. But it’s also a way of living, of relating to the world and to each other.
With the spirit of Aloha there is peace within ourselves and among all people. With Aloha we compete but in a way that puts the highest value on all of us succeeding in our dreams. By living with Aloha we accept each other and use our individual strengths to make life better for everyone.
I was asked to introduce the E Komo Mai Aloha video that would be shown to everyone there. I was asked to talk about one of the most sacred words in the Hawaiian language.
This was a true honor. It was personal, but it was not about me. Aloha is all of us above any one of us.
Through the word Aloha, I had to open the window that captures why the IRONMAN in Hawaii is an experience that goes way beyond sport even though the canvas of the race draws its stories in the shape of swim, bike and run.
The pressure was on! There was one person in the audience that I knew would be the ultimate decision on whether or not I had honored Aloha.
Her name is Auntie Mele Kekai. She sings Hawai’i Aloha after the stroke of midnight each year at the finish line on Saturday night. Her song is the final close of the race.
Auntie is Hawaiian royalty. Her family has been there from the beginning. She’s kin to Rabbit Kekai, one of the greats to ever surf the North Shore of Oahu. But to the point, Auntie was watching just feet from where I would be talking on stage. She would decide in no uncertain terms if what I was about to say met her approval.
Here is how I described Aloha that night:
A few days later I got my report card. I was told that Auntie watched and listened, and that she just kept shaking her head in a “YES”.
That was just as important as all the victories I achieved during my career racing the IRONMAN. You see, this one iconic race is spectacular because it takes place on the Island of Hawaii. It is a showcase for the human spirit because it is impacted by the spirit of Aloha and the people who have guarded this land for centuries.
I struggled with having this be a Top-40 Greatest Moment at IRONMAN simply because on the surface it’s me talking at the Welcome Banquet. But ultimately I felt it was important to make it a solid stake in the ground that reminds everyone why the IRONMAN is the incredible experience that it is.
It’s because it takes place on the Island of Hawaii. It’s great because of the spirit of the land and the people who live there. Honoring that connection is important. And as athletes, the best way to honor the spirit of Aloha is to give your absolute best no matter what the eventual outcome at the finish.