Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Edison Invents His Way into Triathlon

I'm pretty sure Thomas Edison was a triathlete, despite the obvious liability that he died a good 40 years before the sport was invented. A little known fact: Thomas Edison invented over a 1000 new products, most of which where to aid and analyze his multisport skills.

History has a way of obscuring the details, so allow me to enlighten you... Having been born in Ohio, Thomas has aspirations towards winning the overall prize at the Rev3 Cedar Point, which never did materialize for him. But, many positives came from that race. Most of the history books fail to tell you why Thomas invented the items he did, they only focus on the what and the how many. Truth is: Thomas was a dedicated triathlete. He trained and worked hard on his technique, but he also wanted the entire family to enjoy the experience.

One of his earliest, non-inventor jobs was as a telegrapher. He immediately recognized the telegraph's potential towards using the device to report race splits and times to his peeps back home. In his early years, Thomas was poor and triathlon is an expensive sport. He just couldn't afford all of the gadgets and afford to bring his wife to the races. That was alright with his first wife, Mary. She, much to Thomas' dismay, was only interested in racing to humor Thomas. She supported without participating.

Thomas' first invention was the automatic repeater. For those of you who do not know what this does, it was the first incarnation of Twitter. Tommy was aware of the digital era that was soon to come and was ready and willing to aid in its delivery. Tommy would also want you to follow me on Twitter at  .

Next up- M-Dot Tatoo
Because Mary was reluctant to travel with Tom to various events, he didn't want her to miss out on any of the details. Thomas worked long and hard on a device that he could plop down next to Mike Reilly on race day. His invention, the phonograph, was originally to record the finish line comments.  Common known fact, Thomas first tested his phonograph with the child's nursery rhyme, "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Little know fact, disk 2 contained, "Thomas Edison, you are an Ironman!" The first disk is readily available for all the public. The second was buried with him, at Thomas' request, for it was one of his most prized possessions.

Mary and Tom had 3 children. Thomas was so excited with his family and career. His first born was named Marion, but nicknamed 'Dot'. I don't have to point out the significance behind that name, right? (M-Dot, the symbol of WTC Ironman, just in case you didn't know). His second born was Thomas, yet nicknamed 'Dash'. Tommy, Sr was constantly impressed with Jrs running skills. The last kid was simply called Theodore. Not sure why.

I see the light
One of the problems that Thomas really wanted to tackle was that of the 140.6 events. Even though Tom was a sub-10 hour guy, he was empathetic to the plight of the less-speedy athletes. He would often go out on the course closer to the 17 hour cut-off time. Thomas really wanted to root for his IronBretheren, but he couldn't see them. He was overtly frustrated from his lack of ability to see his colleagues. Plus, he couldn't imagine being placed in the situation of competing in complete darkness. Thomas got to work and invented the light bulb so that his friends could find their way to the finish line.

Mary died and Thomas was distraught. He buried himself into triathlon, which eased his sorrow. In 1886, he met Mina while they were both racing at Cedar Point. It was not a particularly good race for Tom, and he was in a much older age bracket, but he was determined to give it his best effort. Mina was ahead in the final half mile of the run and Tom had a big ego problem. He worked hard and out sprinted her at the end. Luckily for Tom, women had a difference in appreciation for guys back then and Mina was attracted to Tom's effort to "show off just for her" (as she put it). They were married later that year.

Since Mina was only 20 at the time of their marriage, Tom recognized her potential in the sport but had a difficult time convincing Mina to make serious changes in her form. Thomas, ever the gentleman, decided that he would need to show her graphically her aero flaws on the bike and foot striking on the run. Mina did not enjoy this approach (some things were the same back then). Thus, Thomas hit the lab. His goal was to invent a device that would record her. In 1878, Thomas succeeded in inventing the kinetoscope. Still, Mina refused to be taped until he could prove it worked on sporting events. Thomas videoed a boxing match between Leonard and Cushing. Mina was convinced and she got considerably faster after that.

Thomas continued to be an inventor well after he retired from triathlon. Most of his inventions were sport focused, as Tom wanted to give back to the life that had given him so much. He invented a vote-recorder, which was originally used to record race finishers and times. Then there was electromagnets, used by Tom in cadence sensors. The telephone was a Thomas original so he could call and check in after an out-of-town training camp. He even invented the electric locomotive so he could relax on his way a race.

Thomas led a fun-filled full life. If it wasn't for him, many of the items in triathlon that we take for granted would not be commonplace today. Thomas amassed a great fortune through inventing and starting companies. One of his original plans was to monotonize the 140.6 distance, but he made a regretful decision early in the sport's history to sell the distance to the WTC. Undeterred, Thomas helped finance the Rev3 series, to which Thomas owed his second marriage. One of the many companies founded by Thomas was a coaching company, which was rumored to be willed to one of Thomas' grandchildren. The identity of this company and name of the owner were not released for public domain. After some research, I'm pretty sure I figured it out. You decide...

Young Thomas Edison
Endurance Nation's Patrick McCrann

So there you have it.

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