Slowest Swimmer In The Boat Inspires Coveted Award

Slowest swimmer Sam Land inspires people to go for their dreams.

Slowest swimmer Sam Land showed doubters what a real winner looks like

Sam Land knew one thing.

It was time to get on the boat.    

This is a story that starts with a group of very dedicated triathletes in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Guess who is coming to town

In 2014, the folks who run the Ironman Triathlon announced they were bringing their event to town.

We’re not talking some easy peasy weekend dip your toe in the triathlon waters kind of event.

No, this was the big Mac Daddy.

2.4 open water swim.

100 mile bike ride.

26.2 mile run.

Conquering the swim

The 2.4 mile open water swim is the most challenging leg for many of the Ironman participants.
The 2.4 mile open water swim is the most challenging leg for many of the Ironman participants. Credit: Jon Del Rivero/Unsplash

     Richard Rogers was one of the wannabe Ironmen. He decided there was only one way to really train for the 2.4 open swim. He volunteered his large boat to haul folks up the river so they could swim down.

That was it. Show up. Get on the boat. Get a ride up the river and swim down.

     Word of this opportunity spread as this turned into weekly Wednesday thing from April until race day in September.

     Richard’s brother, Steve, remembers the day the most unlikely of triathletes showed up.

The most unlikely of triathletes

Slowest swimmer Sam Land inspires people to go for their dreams.
Slowest swimmer Sam Land was the last person some expected to show up to get on the boat to train for the Ironman. Credit: Melissa Land.

     “His name was Sam Land,” Steve told me over the phone this week. “He was overweight, didn’t really even know how to swim and announced, that he, too, was going to do the full Ironman that Fall.”

     Sam showed up every week. Every week he’d be the last one completing the swim and getting back in the boat.

     “He’d climb on that boat with the biggest smile on his face,” Steve remembered.

     People would give Sam the hardest time saying, “There’s no way you’re going to finish the Ironman!”

     Sam would just laugh. Nothing got to him.

Beating the clock

     Fast forward to that big race day in 2015. All the entrants faced the same challenge: a 2.4 miles swim, 100-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run.

Sam Land's friends and family were there to cheer him on on race day.
Sam Land’s friends and family were there to cheer him on on race day. Credit: Melissa Land.

You don’t just have to finish that monster challenge, you have to beat the clock.

     “If you don’t make the midnight time cut off, you’re not an Ironman. It means the last year of training would be for nothing,” Steve says.

     Even Steve didn’t finish until 11 p.m. He was recovering in the medical tent worried about Sam, who was still somewhere back there on the course.

Down to the wire

Just as the clock was about to strike midnight and the race about to shut down, Steve heard the most incredible thing.

     “At 11:59, I heard the announcer ring out to the crowd, ‘Sam Land! You are an Ironman!’ That meant Sam had crossed the finish line with only seconds to spare! Everyone went nuts.”

With seconds to spare, the slowest swimmer, Sam Land, makes his way across the finish line for the Chattanooga Ironman Triathlon.
With seconds to spare, the slowest swimmer, Sam Land, makes his way across the finish line for the Chattanooga Ironman Triathlon. Credit: Melissa Land

Going for glory again

     The following April when training started again, smiling Sam was right back there at the river to jump off the boat.

     A month into the Wednesday swims, horrible news spread through the group. Sam had a heart attack and died that morning.

     How do you replace a presence and inspiration like Sam?

Coveted award

     Steve created “The Sam Land” Award.

     It’s a medallion with a swimmer on the front and an inscription on the back reading, “Sam Land Award: Last in the boat. First in attitude.”

"The Sam Land" Award goes to the slowest swimmer to make their way down the Tennessee River.
“The Sam Land” Award goes to the slowest swimmer to make their way down the Tennessee River. Credit: Steve Rogers

     It’s become such a big deal that they had to institute some new rules. The same person can’t win the award two weeks in a row.

Of course they’re clamoring to put the honor around their neck. Each recipient knows Sam didn’t finish last at all.

One very happy and proud winner of the weekly Sam Land Award.
One very happy and proud winner of the weekly Sam Land Award. Sam’s wife, Missy says “Sam would’ve been so honored to have this award named after him. He loved those Wednesday night swims.” Credit: Steve Rogers.

     He died ahead.

     Ahead of everyone who never got on the boat in the first place.

     Of course, that’s most of us.

     With that abandoned dream that someone was quick to tell us would be impossible.

     Life should be about showing up to get on the darn boat and having the guts to jump in and try.

About being like Sam.

     You can’t finish until you start.

     Where are you standing with your impossible dream, Dear Reader?

     Sam would say you can get there, one crazy stroke at a time.

It’s time to get on the boat.

More of this?

And if you like this post, you might like my latest book:

“Hope Possible: A Network News Anchor’s Thoughts On Losing Her Job, Finding Love, A New Career, And My Dog, Always My Dog.”

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Slowest Swimmer In The Boat Inspires Coveted Award

by DarynKagan time to read: 4 min
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