His Spirit Will Be Forever Present On The East End

Written By: Jean Mellano

On March 15, 2015, a bright light that illuminated the lives of so many, was permanently extinguished when Steve Tarpinian died by his own hand.

Greg Welch, a former professional triathlete, said the news of Steve’s passing rocked the triathlon and swimming world of Kona, Maui, Long Island and the global sporting communities. People never knew how deeply conflicted Steve was. Steve was perceived by many to “have it all”. He was handsome, intelligent, well liked, had a great sense of humor, and most important, Steve was a kind and gentle soul. He was an accomplished athlete, completing 18 Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run ) triathlons and he had built a successful business (Total Training/EventPower) that laid the foundation for triathlons (including teams, events and coaching) on Long Island. With his dark ponytail and fit body, Steve was a beautiful, gifted man. To most people, he was healthy and strong, a great athlete and a visionary entrepreneur. He was loved by many and respected by all who knew him.

In spite of his struggles. no one ever knew, that at times, behind Steve’s beaming smile, there lurked an unfathomable mental anguish. Steve and I were soul mates for over 33 years, yet I had no inkling he was so tortured that he would eventually take his own life. Steve’s suicide was incomprehensible. How could someone like him, with so much to live for, take his own life? Sad to say, there are so many like Steve, silently suffering .

Before he built his own event and coaching company, Steve earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Stonybrook in Electrical Engineering and after he graduated, he went to work for Grumman, designing automatic test equipment for the F14 fighter jets. Steve competed in swimming both at the high school (Chaminade) and college level and created several DVDs and books on swimming. His passion for triathlons began in the early 1980s and since he was such a great swimmer, he was usually first out of the water at most of the local races. In 1999, he was third out of the water in a field of over 1100 athletes at the inaugural Ironman Lake Placid. Steve was highly respected in the triathlon community (both nationally and internationally) for his swim coaching skills. Since Steve was so humble, most people did not know that he had coached several top 10 professional Hawaii Ironman triathletes in their swimming.

Steve Tarpinian was an extraordinary man and positively impacted so many lives in the triathlon community. However, one did not have to be an athlete for Steve to make a lasting impression. The way he was able to make people feel good about themselves and his uncanny ability to make a person believe he/she was the most important person in the world was unforgettable. His kind spirit and good nature were apparent to all who met him.

The “Beauty is in the Balance”, was a mantra that Steve espoused and was the motto of the triathlon team he founded. He always considered himself a catalyst vs. the leader of the team and felt that the team was all about the commitment to living a life working towards balance with sport being a vital part of that balance. We now know that Steve struggled greatly in his final years before he died by suicide, trying to find his own equilibrium. However, Steve was very skilled in conveying to others, the importance of achieving balance by example. While he trained hard and ate well, Steve was known to have a piece of dark chocolate and a cup of coffee as a pre-race meal and his “nap” spot on the Ironman Lake Placid 26.2 mile run was legendary. Talk about finding balance as a highly trained athlete!

While Steve was a celebrity in his own right in the global triathlon community, Long Island was his home and his first love. Although he lived most of his life “up island,” Steve was truly a child of the East End. He was deeply connected to the North and South Forks and spent many hours working, training and producing triathlons in eastern Long Island.

In the 1990s, the Mighty Hamptons triathlon (one of the first triathlons on the east coast in 1982) was in danger of extinction. The Southampton Hospital no longer wanted to sponsor the race and Steve’s company (EventPower) stepped in to continue the tradition of this historic race and purchased the event. The inaugural event in 1982 had about 200 starters and included some of the sport’s most revered legends. Because of Steve, this race continued to grow and improve over the years. After Steve passed, the new owners renamed the event “Steve Tarpinian Memorial Mighty Hamptons”. In addition to producing the Mighty Hamptons, Steve had also created 4 sprint distance triathlons, 2 pool triathlons (one of which is an all female event), 2 Olympic distance and one Half Iron distance triathlon for adults on Long Island. In addition, he created multiple youth events and a junior triathlon team to encourage growth of the sport for the next generation of triathletes.

The beauty of Foster’s Memorial Beach in Sag Harbor held a special place in Steve’s heart . In 2006, he chose that location to film his Yoga for Endurance Athletes DVD that he created with a Southampton yoga studio owner. This beach is also the location of the swim start of the Steve Tarpinian Memorial Mighty Hamptons.

Since Steve built his business on Long Island, he was a strong proponent of supporting local businesses and institutions whenever possible. This was evidenced by the beneficiaries he selected for his East End triathlons: CAST of Southold, Southampton Parks and Recreation, Montauk FD, East Hampton High School Girls Swim Team and Southampton Hospital. In addition, much to the delight of the athletes who participated in Steve’s EventPower races, the Tate’s cookies offered as raffle and age group winner prizes were a huge hit. Sometimes I think the athletes were happier getting Tate’s cookies as an award more than placing in their age group!

Many years ago, Steve asked me if I felt my corporate job was helping people. I was puzzled by his question since my job made good use of my skills and I needed to make a living. Upon reflection, I now realize that Steve wanted to know if I shared his sentiments. As was evidenced by the paths he chose in his life time, becoming a Jones Beach lifeguard, applying to FDNY and passing the test to become a firefighter, and finally, becoming a coach, Steve’s true mission in life was to help others.

Steve accomplished much in his life and left a wonderful legacy in spite of his tortured mind. He was a man who did his best to make people feel good about themselves through athletics and to accomplish things they never thought they could. I believe telling his story will help and inspire others, whether it challenges people to question if things are truly as they seem or realize that some of us are more fragile than others. Even if it helps some to realize they are not alone in dealing with their struggles, Steve can continue to help others, even though he is no longer with us.

Some of Steve’s ashes were spread in the waters off Montauk , a place so near and dear to his heart, a place where Steve found beauty and balance and shared that with so many others; a final fitting tribute to an adopted son of the East End.