Jim Butterfield, left, and Gerry Benson *Photos supplied
Jim Butterfield, left, and Gerry Benson *Photos supplied

In 1981, people who did the Ironman were viewed as ‘almost weirdos’.

But when Jim Butterfield was first shown an article describing the event — 2.4 mile swim race, 112 mile bike race, and 26.2 mile run — he was blown away.

He told the Sun: “It was such an interesting challenge. My background was in marathons and I had some confidence competing locally. Then I was an organizer — I was so keen. Me, my wife and friends were always organizing triathlons. 

“I was always coming from behind, I’d get to the run and then get some traction in the event. So I thought ‘wow’ an all-day event that finishes with a marathon!”

Gerry Benson was also enthralled by the challenge, held in February then, which is still billed as the ultimate test of mind and body. His friend and former colleague at the Bermuda Police Force Dave Barber said: “Gerry was a wonderful sportsman but swimming wasn’t his strong point so he spent a lot of time improving that. He’d go down to the pool at Hamilton Princess and swim in Barrs Bay — there were less boats around there at that time.

“Gerry and Jim went down [to Hawai’i] and Jim did wonderfully well. Gerry completed it in a respectable time but just to finish it was an achievement.”

He added: “One thing Gerry wanted to make clear when I spoke to him was that he was never in the same class as Jim Butterfield, who was an extra special athlete.”

The Ironman in 1981 attracted 388 enthusiasts, while this year saw almost 2,000 line up at the start line. Jim is modest when comparing the two eras — and the fact he took over two hours longer than his son, Tyler. He said: “It’s a much more competitive event now. I had to smile with the fact we both came seventh. 

He added: “It was a fun thing to do — but we were seen as almost weirdos in those days!”

His come-from-behind style, he says, was never more in evidence than in  1981. “I came out of the water and all of the bikes had disappeared!”

In 182nd position after the swim, he propelled himself up the leaderboard. 

He said: “I got on the road and kept going past people. Hawai’i worked out that way for me and Tyler had been doing the same thing but in Hawai’i he came out of the water and got into the bike section he was with the pick of the competition. 

“We hoped Tyler would end up fourth but seventh is a motivator for him — the next day he was out training. For me it was something I did after work – for him, it is his work.”