Memories of Marc Surprenant

PAUL HUDDLE (Wildflower winner, Hawaiian IM 7th place, current top coach): I was living and racing primarily in Arizona when I first heard of Marc. He was the best guy from the East Coast at the time and I was living and training with a guy named Kenny Langone who would tell stories about Marc and what a phenomenal athlete he was. The Mighty Hamptons Triathlon was a big event on the East Coast and Marc had won it—and he eventually won the only Ironman distance event in the Northeast at that time called the Cape Cod Endurance. He then moved to San Diego as he was pursuing the sport professionally—the same time many of us were romantically thinking we could make a living swimming, cycling, and running.

I remember his cover on Triathlete (or was it Triathlon) Magazine with his trademark white Vuarnet sunglasses. He was the good looking blond triathlete cover boy in the same vein as Tinley & Tony Richardson. How could you not hate this guy who was a great athlete and good looking? Plus his name last name was Surprenant—the pronunciation I recall was "super-naught"—which evolved to "Super Nugget" or simply Superman.

The crew of guys I was racing and training with wanted nothing more than to beat the guys from California—and pretty much anyone who was in the magazines and especially anyone on the cover. So, as I think any local training group will do, we built an imaginary rivalry and would demonize everyone outside out group so that we had a little extra incentive to race to the best of our abilities. Marc was in that group along with Dean Harper, Molina, Tinley, Allen, Dave, Monty, Gary Peterson, Kurt Madden,

Upon moving out to San Diego in January of '86, I finally got to meet all these guys and quickly realized that they were all friendly—none more than Marc. He was living down on F street just east of Vulcan in coastal Encinitas and would do some pretty epic rides from there—joining Molina, Charlie Graves, Tinley, and the rest of the guys there at the time. The overwhelming memory of him was his smile and infectious enthusiasm for the sport. He was up for anything anytime and, to me, had the purest, unpretentious air of fun about him at all times. He was a dreamer and you felt like you were an instant friend and could go along for the ride with him even though you just met him. I remember how instantly disarmed I was when I finally met him and realized what a good guy he was.

As is often the case with stuff like this, I wish I'd had been able to stay in touch with him through the years but feel fortunate to have known him. It goes without saying that I wish his family/friends strength in dealing with this loss.

ENEY JONES (Top female pro in the 80s, perennial first out of the water): I won a contest in Boulder, for Without Limits Productions, before I left for this year's Tour of California. The question was what was the first Ironman in the Continental US and who won it. I immediately answered, "This is easy. Cape Cod. Marc Suprenant." The young triathletes just stared at me in awe.

I often smile when I think of him. He said I had EFD. In Kona one year he dropped his keys swimming and I kept swimming until I found them (Extreme Focus Disorder). His colorful tri suits, moviestar glasses and smile are indelibly etched on my mind.

SCOTT TINLEY (2-time Hawaiian IM champ, member of the Big-4): I remember racing against him at the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon, and he'd cajoled a few of his local buds to be out there in a van with the back doors open and the speakers blaring AC/DC. When I finally caught him on the bike he looked at me and asked if I was a real rocker or not.

Marc's passing is very, very sad for all the reasons one usually bears witness to when a good person passes before they are ready. He's the first of the original crew to move on down that line. Marc knew that he would live forever and would say so in words and actions. I'm a believer so I guess he will.

DAVE MCGILLIVRAY (Boston Marathon RD, founder of many New England triathlons): Marc was arguably the first, true elite triathlete from the Northeast, at least in my eyes. My business grew with the sport of triathlon in the US. I knew ALL the top elites—the Big Four, the Twins, Pigglet, Smyers, Cannon, both Ken's, all of them. But Marc, along with Karen, was the local stud, tough as nails. He put Northeast on the map. He was the other Beast from the East along with Glah. Triathlon was a California sport then. Who around here could ever think of competing with ST or Dave or Mark or Molina? Then along came Marc.

He did all my races and I was grateful for that. His victories in my races made him a star, but his participation in my races put my races on the map—it was a win-win and we both knew it. His Dad and I were partners in owning a triathlon store on the Cape owning few races on the Cape. His infectious smile and white sunglasses were his trademark. He was adventurous and was never intimidated by a challenge. He was great at all distances. He was a great friend, too.

DAVE SCOTT (Perennial IM champ, Big-4, triathlon's Babe Ruth): My best recollection of Marc that typified his great personality was actually a comment he made while we were on the bike leg of a race which I think was Atlanta USTS around 1984. Marc was extremely talented but always had a fun - loving spirit. As we rode side-by-side during the race (that was allowed during the early days), he turned to me and said, "Dave, this is cool, really cool, we're dropping everyone." My reaction was that I was trying to drop Marc but couldn't. He was totally indifferent—he just enjoyed the moment as we were both bearing down in the midst of the race.

Marc was a unique competitor in that he never had any animosity nor any vendetta against anyone. He was truly a great, free spirited guy who raced with a passion but more importantly was always there to shake your hand or ask about you. Marc was extremely well liked and respected by everyone.

MARK MONTGOMERY (Top pro short courser from 1980 to 2000): One weekend this guy traveled from Boston to California to race us heads-up, and killed it. That was Marc, and from then on he was a regular fixture on the circuit, as well as a passenger in my old community race van.

He raced hard, partied hard, and lived each day to the fullest. His infectious smile and high energy attitude made it impossible to be anything but upbeat around him. This news saddens me, he was a great friend and travel companion. We have lost a true legend of the sport and one of the uniquely adventurous spirits that I'm glad to have known.

MURPHY REINSCHREIBER (Pro in the early 80s, triathlon's top pro agent for two decades, now Ironman VP Australasia/Oceania): When it comes to Marc, I'm not very objective because he stole my girlfriend in Kona one year. Of course, thinking back, I never had a chance. Mark was mercurial; everything he did was fast and bright, and usually fun.

My most vivid recollection is a trail run with Marc and Tinley in the hills near Rancho Santa Fe. We were running a very narrow section between a canyon wall and a cliff. Leading around a blind turn Tinley encountered a rattlesnake sleeping in the middle of the trail. Startled, Tinley didn't break stride and jumped over it. Marc and I came to a grinding halt. There was no way around it. Clear of the snake, Tinley threw rocks at the rattler until it was good and pissed off and then ran down the trail laughing at us. After a few choice words, Marc had a good laugh himself, and, with a running start, went for it leaving me with no choice but follow.

DAVE HORNING (Top pro early-to-mid 80s, longtime Bay Area RD): Always competed with a smile on his face, no matter how the race was going. What a pleasure it was to race beside him.

SHANNON DELANEY (Top female pro, top swimmer, mid-80s to early-90s): Who could forget that smile and those white Vuarnets? Marc was an entertainer and loved a good time. I remember the nights in Del Mar with Marc and Dale singing after long potluck dinners. Marc always made an instant connection with people and the places around him with his infectious attitude and laugh. I remember being whisked off by Marc to Kawaihae to witness the Autumn Equinox before Ironman one year and at that time realized how deeply connected and comforted Marc was with the beauty of life around him. He always made time to explore, experience and engage with the people and places he came in contact with. Marc, you will be missed. God Bless.

EMILIO DE SOTO (Top pro 1982 onward, founder De Soto Clothing): The first ever Triathlete of the Year Awards were held at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club back around the mid 1980's. I was never a part of the North County triathlete scene and Marc enjoyed that about me. Soupy flew in with plans of staying at my house in Mission Beach that night. He really liked that the boardwalk was lit up all night and since he had not worked out upon arriving in San Diego in just in time for the party, he insisted we go for a 5 mile run to the jetty and back. It was not a run, it as a race—a beer induced race—at 1:00 in the morning.

DALE BASESCU (Top pro early-to-late 80s): Marc and I lived together for a couple years back in the tri days. He was one of the most upbeat, positive people I knew from back then. One of the things I remember most about our friendship is laughing—lots and lots of laughing. We'd play practical jokes on each other quite often. He had a great sense of humor.

Marc was one of those guys who believed if you reach down deep enough you can find the strength to do what ever you really wanted to do. He used that kind of guts and determination to overcome a lack of natural talent in order to become one of the top professional triathletes.

He was also a natural performer who never backed down from an opportunity to get up on any stage, whether to sing, speak, or just tell a funny story.

I thought about Marc every now and then as the years from the last time we spoke grew in number. He was truly one of the most colorful friends from my past who I hoped to one day reconnect with. It saddens me to know that we wont get that chance.

PAUL LUNDGREN (Top pro mid-to-late 80s, TNT's wetsuit supplier): In about 1985, back home in Idaho, he was one of the guys I was reading about who was making a living in the sport. His is one of the stories that made me believe I could do the same thing.

What struck me about becoming a friend of Marc's, besides the reality he was financially struggling as hard as I was, is that he was accessible. There was no doubt he was as driven and emotionally invested as the rest of the pros, but what I found unique was his ability to be a friend. He didn’t lose himself in the egomania so many of us did. He had some respectable results and could have lost himself in his identity, but he kept it real, at least with me.

I remember that spark in his eye that yearned for the joy in every moment. I know leaving the sport was a hard time for him. One time with backpack and bike about 150 miles from home he stopped at a rest stop to pee and came out to find his bike had been stolen. That was the last heard from him. I missed him when he left. I feel a bit older today knowing he is gone.

TIM SHEEPER (Top West Coast pro in the late-80s, top Bay Area coach): I only knew him from the Wednesday rides. I remember that he only liked being at the front of the group hammering with everything he had. He never-ever held back. His enduring qualities were unapologetically unpolished, absolutely authentic and completely transparent. He would try to kick your ass and he would tell you he was trying to kick your ass.

I remember him always time trialing down I-5 against the entire Wednesday group of 30+ riders who took the Camp Pendleton road on our way back to Oceanside from San Clemente. He would try to arrive in Oceanside before the group since the freeway was a slightly more direct route. He would attempt to recruit other riders to join him on his weekly speed run, but without much luck, since we all knew it would be a very painful 20 minutes trying to hold the wheel of a man completely obsessed with the challenge. I did it with him only one time and promised myself not to do it ever again. I was completely spent after the effort, but Marc then tried to coax me into a game of full court pick-up basketball after the ride because he felt it was better training for him to run on the court rather than around a track or on the road. I had to gracefully and cleverly decline his offer as I pictured him barreling down the court for a fast break, unfazed by anything or anyone in his path.

Great guy. Great era. Both are missed.

JIMMY RICCITELLO (Top pro mid-80s to mid-90s, Ironman's technical chair): I didn't know you well, Marc, but I learned a lot from you and my memories are vivid and strong.

We met in 1985, on the sandy shore of a brackish lake in Natick, MA, minutes before the start of the Boston United States Triathlon Series. My friend Paul Huddle told me you were the "Beast From the East," and hard to beat anywhere, let alone your "hometown."

None of this really mattered much to me, at the time, as I was simply happy to be toeing the line with some of the best triathletes in the business and had zero thoughts of winning. However, two hours later, I learned a life lesson from you that will stick with me forever.

It rained hard that day and the bike course became an ice skating rink. We were about the only two to escape the slick corners and metal bridges unscathed. As luck would have it, I started the run with a little head-start. I had never won anything in my life, and started the run feeling like today "just might be my day."

You caught me mid-way through the run. The first thing I noticed: I ran with contended calm, but you ran with a fury and energy that was contagious. You immediately surged. Normally I would continue at my pace, happy to finish where I was supposed to finish. On this day, however, motivated by your infectious “vibe," I answered the surge. Again and again, you surged—each time, I clawed my way back.

With the finish line in sight, I felt compelled to attack—which was NOT normal for me. As the finish line approached, you fell behind. One hundred meters from the line, I finally felt the difference between first and not first.

The feeling was fleeting, however, as you stormed beside me in the final 25 meters to win by inches. You screamed and raised your arms, fists clenched, in triumph as you crossed the line. I can picture it like it was yesterday. Your performance, your happiness, the happiness of your family who were waiting at the finish line, the happiness of everyone watching (the hometown crowd)—those who helped will you to win. I remember immediately noticing that the typical feeling of elation and satisfaction that filled my soul when finishing near the top, was heightened by the fact that I had gone above and beyond my limits and expectations—despite the fact that I did not win.

Your performance that day left me with a burning desire to rise above—to push myself beyond what I previously thought was possible—to win. While I didn't win much in my career, it wasn't for lack of trying or because of a fear TO try. This shift in my race personality came from watching you—it was the first time I saw the winning spirit up close.

Almost every race I participate in, I picture you winning in the Boston rain, in your hometown, and I'm able to squeeze a little bit extra out of myself.

Thank you, Marc, and rest in peace.