We lost a local sports hero in Evan's Notch on Saturday with the passing of Jim Soroka.
Jim embodied everything great in sports and life, and he amazingly intertwined both into his world. When you spent a minute with Jim it was a quality minute. Jim, who I simply called "Iron Man" because of his incredible ironman triathlon accomplishments, was quite simply a great guy — humble, always upbeat and loved life. He loved his fellow competitors as much as he loved to compete.
Whenever you caught up with Jim, smiles and laughter were always a part of the recipe. He had a great laugh. He also knew the importance of family and worshiped Margie, his wife, and their two children, David and Jess. You always knew what the Soroka kids were up to and Jim beamed with pride as he spoke of them.
Friend Paul Kirsch shared his thoughts about Jim on Sunday.
"As I have gotten older, I have come to accept the passing of life — my own parents dying as well as close friends. But every once in a while someone you care a lot about dies and it so completely punches you in the gut, and it's hard to comprehend. (Saturday), James Soroka, local triathlon legend and inspiration to so many of us, died in a cycling accident, doing something he so totally loved.
"Jim was that guy who you kind of figured would live forever. He seemed to be getting stronger with age, his muscles bigger, his drive a little stronger. He competed in the Ironman in Hawaii in his 60s and I always kind of pictured him eating rocks for breakfast as he was just so darn strong. Jim was also that bright light that we all look for in people — he could make you laugh and would always have an encouraging word for everyone — whether you were a runner, a swimmer or cyclist. I enjoyed many a trail run with Jim and I used to joke about him being a gearhead with his heart monitor and watch — ironic that now in the last month I am addicted to Strava. He's laughing about that now.
"I got to know Jim best as someone who hosted elite runners for the Mount Washington Road Race. He opened his house so generously — elite runners from around the country and world knew of the famed Soroka hospitality from Jim and his wife Margie. I often wondered if so many runners from Italy came for the actual race or whether it was more just for the amazing experience of being treated like royalty by Jim and Margie. There was an irony in this as Jim 'hated' running hills. He thought mountain runners were crazy — this coming from a man who did Ironman level triathlons in his 60s that made the rest of us think he was crazy. Jim used to schedule his triathlon races around Mt. Washington to make sure he was in town.
"I spent the morning in some tearful conversations with out of town runners sharing the sad news of Jim. Still hard to comprehend the valley has lost such an amazing bright light. Jim, you made the world a better place. We were all lucky to know you and heartfelt prayers and good thoughts for your family. If you knew Jim, go run, bike or swim a mile for him this week in his honor. We could all learn from his amazing positivity and drive."
Well said, Paul!
There's nothing quite like challenging your body physically, putting it to a test occasionally — that's what Jim did the summer of 2008, and he loved every minute of it. He developed a passion for triathlons and competed in eight over a three month stretch that year..
"I kind of got started three years ago," Soroka said in 2008 during a visit to the Sun. "I was motivated to see what I could do and it's been kind of a progression from there. Someone goaded me into trying it and I loved it. It's such a great environment to be around fellow competitors. These people are so healthy and fit, it's infectious. You get a chance to talk with people about how to eat better, training techniques and how to be more healthy overall."
It was in 2008 that Jim set a goal to one day compete in the world's greatest endurance race — the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii — and Jim saw that dream become a reality in September of 2012.
The race is a 2.4-mile roughwater swim, 112 miles of the around-O'ahu Bike Race and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon all rolled into one event.
Jim smiled when he put the Hawaiian Ironman into perspective.
"I tell people that race would be like starting at Birch Hill (on West Side Road in North Conway) and swimming to Weston's Farm Stand," he said. "Next you jump on your bike and ride to Hampton Beach then you put on your sneakers and run a quarter of the way back. I think it puts it all into a new perspective. Oh, it's also close to 100 degrees with high humidity when you do it, too. If I do (the Ironman), I only need to do it once."
It is worth noting that over the course of a full year of training for Hawaii, Jim covered 239.25 miles of swimming, 4,267 miles of cycling, 756.75 miles of running, and 64 visits to the weight room.
"This was truly a journey, a most wonderful and rewarding journey," Jim said of the Hawaiian race, which was all the more special because Jess and David were there to see him finish third in his age group.
"And also a big thanks to my wife for putting up with this for an entire year," Jim said with his great smile and laugh. "Look for me to be on the 'Honey Do list' ASAP."
Jim competed in races all over the country to draw attention and raise funds for the White Mountain Aquatic Foundation, which hopes to build an indoor swimming facility in the Mount Washington Valley.
Jim came by the paper in March to share conceptual plans for the White Mountain Aquatic and Fitness Complex to be located next to Kennett High School on Eagles Way. It looks like it will offer something for everyone.
Planned are two swimming pools — one for water aerobics and physical therapy and a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool — a weight room, child-care room, fireplace and lounge and basketball court — and that's all just on first floor. On the second floor are rooms for yoga, exercises and Pilates, a spinning room and an 8-foot-wide, eighth-of-a-mile walking track.
"This really is a community project," Jim said at the time. "It's all about community health and wellness, it's not just a swimming pool. We will have something here for those haven't yet been born to the most mature senior citizen. We're here for people from 1 to 101 and older."
Jim said the project will cost roughly $11 million. The hope is to open in the fall of 2019. I'd love to see it named after Jim.
Jim had a vision for a community pool for more than a decade. In 2004, while driving to Laconia with three other local swimmers — Maury McKinney, Steve Johnson and Bob Maag — for early morning laps, the dream was born.
"It was four guys in a car talking about a dream, and look how far we've come," Jim said.
That was Jim, always upbeat.
Jim "Iron Man" Soroka will definitely be missed, but never forgotten.
- Category: Sports Columns