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Epilogue | Bela Zoltan Molnar

Ironman enthusiast Bela Molnar dies at 61

LARGO — There were a lot of places around the world Bela Molnar needed to be.

He needed to escape communism in his native Hungary. He did not know how; he figured he would manage.

He needed adventure, whether it was rafting or scuba diving or filming a couple of friends in the Red Sea playing with a nurse shark. He later made a video of the trip, using the sound track from Jaws.

He needed to travel the world to compete in Ironman triathlons even though he didn't necessarily have the pockets to get there. Oh, and he had to swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 and run 26.2 more in fewer than 17 hours, the time limit most Ironman races impose for an entry to count.

Usually he beat that outer limit by an hour, give or take.

When he couldn't run anymore, he needed to film local races, seeding the Internet with thousands of images and video clips.

Mr. Molnar, the unofficial videographer of the St. Pete Mad Dogs Triathlon Club and just about anybody else who needed his services, died Nov. 17, at his Largo home. He was 61 and had contended with heart disease.

"He was always there at the events," said Susan Daniels, an event director for St. Anthony's Triathlon and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. "He photographed every event. People were always calling him."

He joined the Mad Dogs in the early 1990s, one of the first 50 to do so in a triathlon club that now has more than 3,400 members.

"His personality was, if he had something in his mind he went for it," said Maureen Kolar, a fellow Mad Dog who with her husband, Butch, were among Mr. Molnar's closest friends.

A regular dinner guest, Mr. Molnar loved Kolar's paella, but only if she left out the tomatoes. If he saw her about to include tomatoes, he would lobby against it.

"I used to tell him, 'I've never met a ruder pest from Budapest,' " said Kolar, 66.

Call it assertiveness, or just Bela being Bela. The bottom line: Everything Mr. Molnar did was a big deal.

He flew to Ironman events in Austria; Germany; Switzerland; Tahiti; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and British Columbia, among other venues. Kolar, a former flight attendant, got him comped as a family member — which for all intents and purposes he was.

He persuaded the crew to let him take his bicycle on board, disassembled in a clothes bag. "He would take pictures of the flight attendants," Kolar said. He dedicated other adventures to diving. His underwater photography has shown up in countless Internet postings, including his own video record of a couple's underwater wedding, and was featured in a 2009 St. Petersburg Times story.

Between weekend adventures he laid marble and tile, a trade he learned in Europe. Mr. Molnar was born in 1950 in Szigetvar, Hungary. He grew up amid political upheavals and left in the 1980s.

He settled in New Brunswick, N.J., where he met a Hungarian woman and married her. The marriage lasted several years.

Inspired by fellow countryman and Ironman champion Peter Kropko, Mr. Molnar took up triathlons.

"He was never the epitome of fitness, but he managed," Kolar said.

In his "Clydesdale" division set for heavier athletes, Mr. Molnar did more than manage. In a 1995 "sprint triathlon," he swam a quarter-mile, biked 7.3 miles and ran 3.1 miles in 59 minutes, 17 seconds, putting him among the top finishers in his division.

He has carried a mountain bike up muddy hills, totaled an expensive racer in Australia to avoid a kangaroo, and pounded on aching joints well past dark to beat the time limit.

Congestive heart failure brought an end to his racing, and the start of bypass surgeries.

Mr. Molnar was found dead in his condominium. He was last known to be alive Nov. 9, according to the Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner's office, which has attributed his death to natural causes.

"We knew it was inevitable," said fellow Mad Dog Roger Burke, 75.

The triathlon club and St. Pete Mad Dog Charities are raising funds to bring his daughter here from Hungary. They plan to scatter his ashes somewhere in the water.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]


Bela Zoltan Molnar

Born: March 31, 1950

Died: Nov. 17, 2011

Survivors: daughter, Nicole; brother, Lagos.

Ironman enthusiast Bela Molnar dies at 61 11/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 26, 2011 8:24pm]
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