Mike Plant Has Died, But His Imprimatur Remains

Mike Plant wrote the remembrance of Ron Smith here on Slowtwitch. He wrote it instead of me because his was perfect. Here’s from the first paragraph: “Ron died this morning. As in all he did, he went gracefully, without drama or fanfare.”

On May 5th, 2019, Mike Plant died. As in all he did, he went gracefully, without drama or fanfare.

If you enjoy triathlon, the contours of the sport were shaped in large part by Mike Plant. Without him it’s doubtful you’d have ever heard of Bob Babbitt, or Mike Reilly or, for what it’s worth, me.

He died at the age of 71 from lymphocytic leukemia. While I don’t know I assume this somehow sprung from his lifelong battle with his GI tract. He suffered from an acute case of something in the Crohn’s & Colitis family, though he never complained. Always downplayed it. I’m shocked that he died. I’m not shocked that almost none of us knew how sick he was until after he died.

Mike Plant moved from Connecticut to North San Diego after serving in Vietnam. Scott Tinley told me that he performed his military service as a journalist. He was both a writer and photographer and I regret not knowing about his service, and not prying those stories out of him. He was a platform/springboard diver by sport, but once in San Diego he took up running. He began working at Chart House restaurants as early as the late 70s.

Concurrent with his Chart House employement he formed his own race finish photo company, Sportshots, and he began to edit the San Diego Track Club News. He took it from newsletter to newspaper; changed the name to Running News; and started publishing articles by a schoolteacher named Bob Babbitt. Babbitt returned from the Hawaiian Ironman in 1980 and told Plant he really ought to change the title to Running & Triathlon News, because “this sport is going to take off.”

Bob Babbitt became the L.A. Editor of Running & Triathlon News, under Plant, and Plant also taught Lois Scwhartz how to shoot and develop film. Forward to April of 1987, when Competitor Magazine launched under the ownership of Babbitt and Schwartz, that magazine had Mike Plant’s DNA all over it.

Plant gave Babbitt his first writing gig, and groomed him. Babbitt gave me my first writing gig. Which led to Quintana Roo. Which led to Slowtwitch. Bob Babbitt told me about Plant, “He gave birth to my career and died on my birthday.”

Plant was a prime mover in the Bud Lite Triathlon Series, started in 1982 by Jim Curl and Carl Thomas. Plant was one of the great race announcers I ever heard, and was Kona’s announcer from 1987 thru 1990. It was Mike Plant who told race owner Valerie Silk that he had a guy who could help, name of Mike Reilly, and urged Valerie to bring him aboard. Reilly worked under Plant the first 2 years.

Plant lost his Kona announcing gig after 1990, and I suspect that it was due to the change in race ownership, and the Plant Report, Mike Plant’s underground Thomas Payne sheet that just told the unvarnished truth about multisport. “He’d done research, homework, and if you didn’t,” Jim Curl told me, “he’d call sponsors to the mat; call Ironman to the mat.”

Plant rose in the ranks, and became the VP of Marketing for Chart House restaurants, and I got him from them, in 1997. He worked for me for 2 years (until I got the boot) and this is what I can tell you: Mike demanded that you be honorable; that you provide value in consideration for what you charge; and, that you class yourself up.

When I decided, in 1997, to resurrect the original US Triathlon Series (the Bud Lite Triathlon series of the 1980s) the first person I called was Jim Curl; the second was Mike Plant. And before he ups and dies, I just need to say it now: Jim Curl was the best there ever was at serving you a fair, safe, compelling race. Curl literally wrote the book (there is a big, fat manual) on how to put on a triathlon, and the entire sport learned triathlon operations from Jim Curl. Mike Plant’s job was to class up the joint. Those two made something beautiful out of thin air. By year-2 of our badly-funded, short-staffed effort our national federation was calling us, handing over the running of its National Championship and Olympic qualifying. But all this happened after Plant had already stamped his imprimatur on triathlon.

Plant wrote what is still considered the official memorialization of our sport’s early days in Iron Will. What I gave you is the Amazon link to his book, because if you look at the reviews, from almost 20 years ago, one was by Ironman Triathlon founder John Collins. In it he writes, “I have seen many attempts to get the story down on paper. Mike gets it better than anyone else so far.” John… my friend… it remains the best attempt.

I sometimes ask myself, who are the best salesmen in our industry? Who are the best announcers? The best marketers? The best journalists? Photographers? Some folks – Mike Reilly – are on multiple lists of mine. Mike Plant is on all the lists. I’m gratified that I told him that he’s on all my best-of lists, a number of times, though always to his chagrin.

In recent years Mike Plant founded a company that – of course – helped race organizers class up their events. MPA Event Graphics. The one thing about him, he was so talented, I felt he always could have been whatever he wanted. A politician. A world class journalist. Our mothers tell us this: You can be whatever you want. It’s a nice gesture, not well supported by fact. But in Mike Plant’s case, by his choice, or by accident of fate, he’s not known by the majority of Americans. He could’ve been. He could’ve been whatever he wanted. Instead, we got him. He is quite simply the most agile-brained, talented communicator I ever met.

Mike Plant is survived by his wife of 33 years, Cathy, and two daughters, Kendall and McKenna. His family has asked that a donation be made to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, and has established a page for that purpose.

[PHOTO: Top image by Timothy Carlson; lower image is of Mike Plant and USAT CEO Rocky Harris at the 2018 TBI Conference.]