Doug Robinson: After facing bears and cars, Utah man undaunted by triathlon

Published: Monday, June 24 2013 11:44 p.m. MDT

In the interest of equal time, I present the case of Michael Dunn, a Salt Lake man whose biggest claim to fame is that a grizzly bear once mauled him (we’ll get back to that). His second claim to fame is that he was hit by a car. If he can manage to get kidnapped or shipwrecked, he’ll complete a trifecta for odd and unfortunate experiences.

Anyway, there was a time when Dunn merely hoped to walk again and then when he did that and overcame the pain and rehabilitation of his injuries, well, all kinds of possibilities opened up. Now he dreams of competing in the Ironman World Championships and needs your vote to …

Wait a minute, Robinson — stop! — we’ve already seen this column. It’s a rerun.

Yes and no. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about cancer patient Dean Bullock, who also needed the public’s vote to get into the Ironman race (which is exactly what happened). Now Dunn is trying to do the same thing.

As you might recall, for aspiring triathletes who can’t qualify by performance for the famed Ironman World Championships in Kona, the race allows seven at-large entries based on subjective criterion — namely, those who embody the Ironman's "Anything is Possible" theme. Candidates submit 90-second videos that can be viewed on the Internet and the public votes for its favorite athlete to send to the race.

The candidates tend to have survived serious ordeals and challenges but nevertheless want to subject themselves to completing a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking, haven’t they already had enough pain? There must be easier things to do in Kona, such as sit on a beach.

Well, any guy who survives confrontations with a grizzly bear and an automobile certainly seems tough enough to be admitted to the Ironman race and gets my vote. If Dunn wants to get more mileage out of that bear attack, fine (a local newspaper and TV station have done stories about Dunn’s Ironman ambitions). He earned it.

In 1994, Dunn became the first human ever attacked in Grand Teton National Park, which was 56 years old at the time. To this day, when Dunn shows up in adjacent Jackson Hole, the locals tease him, claiming he ruined Camelot for them. People naturally grew more wary of the park and its dangers after Dunn met the bear, and there have been several bear attacks since then.

Dunn was running on a back-country trail 19 years ago when he came face to face with a grizzly. It took three surgeries and 300 stitches to put him back together (Dunn, not the bear) and another six months of painful recovery and rehab. It was a long road back, one painful step at a time, and when he was fully recovered he felt the need for more daunting physical challenges.

Since then, the 55-year-old Dunn has completed the Wasatch 100 four times (a 100-mile mountain run) and a marathon 35 times, not to mention various endurance bike and Nordic ski races.

Triathlons had been on his bucket list since he watched them on ABC’s "Wide World of Sports" as a college student. In 2009, he began training for his first Ironman event — the 2010 St. George Ironman. Seven weeks before the race, while out on a bike ride, he was hit by a car and broke his collarbone. He was determined to compete in the race anyway, even though he could do nothing more strenuous than walk in the final weeks before the race.

The swim portion of the Ironman worried him the most because of his damaged shoulder. When he emerged from the water, he was so happy that he celebrated as if he had just won the Olympics until a race official told him, “Hey, buddy, you do know there are two more events, right?” Dunn went on to complete the bike and running portions of the race and finished in 13 hours, well below the 18-hour limit that defines the official designation as an Ironman.

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