From a free T-shirt to a network TV show.
The intriguing, somewhat improbable, premise is the real-life story of Dean Warhaft. The University of Hawaii graduate has combined his love of competition, adventure and culture into "Endurance Traveler," a new show airing weekly on FSN that debuted Sept. 9.
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"This show is specifically designed so that viewers feel they’re not just on a journey, they’re a part of it," the Florida native said. "I credit my appreciation of different cultures to the state of Hawaii.
"It’s not just about doing races. It’s about seeing the world from the seat of a bike, running through remote places, being able to appreciate where you are in a way you can’t get from driving in a car."
"Endurance Traveler" takes viewers to Ironman competitions in South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Kentucky and Switzerland; La Vuelta, a distance bike race around Puerto Rico; the swim around Key West, Fla.; the Reggae Marathon in Jamaica; and an inline skating race across Georgia. All told, Warhaft flew 125,000 miles, biked 1,047 miles, ran 183 miles, skated for 89 miles and swam 39 miles.
"La Vuelta, the three-day cycling event around the island," Warhaft said of the Puerto Rico race. "It’s almost a Latin Hawaii. It had just a great island welcomeness.
"But I’m a runner first; it’s what I enjoy the most. Swimming is my nemesis. I just try to survive."
The seed for the show was planted back in 1993, when Warhaft was living in a UH dorm and his residence advisor mentioned that the Running Room was giving away a Honolulu Marathon training T-shirt to those paying the $2 early entry fee.
Warhaft trained on the UH track and, a few months later, crossed the Kapiolani Park finish line in 4 hours, 59 minutes, 58 seconds.
"I did break 5 for my first marathon, but I spent the next three days in bed, dying," he said. "Then I hobbled back out for a run. I was hooked."
The next year, Warhaft did his first triathlon and "Hawaii is so conducive to it," he said of the three-sport race. "There’s a reason for the popularity and it’s easy to embrace the lifestyle."
The idea for the TV show continued to develop as Warhaft added to his endurance competition resume. As the website describes the series, Warhaft has "raced, eaten and explored his way across six continents for the past two decades.
"I was enjoying the travel and, when others asked me about the trips, I found I was a good storyteller," he said. "I thought of ways I could live the life of a pro athlete but not have to put my life on hold to train."
In 1994, Warhaft went to Kona to watch the Ironman Triathlon World Championship and promised himself he would do the race. It took him 13 years to qualify, finally competing in 2008 (10:44:01, 661st out of 1,736).
In the years in between, Warhaft earned his B.A. in speech from UH, his law degree from Seattle University and obtained his professional land surveyor’s license. Based out of his hometown of Miami, he’s also working on a cookbook featuring recipes from all of the countries visited while filming the television show.
"It’s been a blast," Warhaft said. "Had I not applied to UH, I would not be doing this right now. The link starts back there.
"The show is about the holistic experience of what it’s like to actually be there, not just what the race is like but the lifestyle and culture."
Warhaft is already mapping out Season 2. High on the list? Outrigger canoe paddling.
"The Molokai (Hoe) is on the short list," he said.