A few years ago, Julie Moss never could have imagined what has happened in her life. A college phys. ed. major, she figured to go into teaching, a job that didn't particularly excite her. Now she is a leading athlete and city-hopping spokesperson for the whole new sport of triathloning, which combines three races - usually swimming, cycling, and running - into one.
Ironically, she achieved her status in triathloning not by winning, but by finishing second in her first big event, the ''Ironman'' held two Februarys ago in Hawaii, which she'll compete in again on Saturday.
Under normal circumstances, a runner-up doesn't receive much attention. This was different, though, because her second-place finish was among the most dramatic and heroic in recent sports memory. It also was captured by ABC and shown to a Wide World of Sports audience at a later date.
After completing a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a hilly 112-mile bike ride, and all but a few yards of a full length, 26.2-mile marathon, Moss was in the lead. But exhausation overcame her 11 hours into the race and she crumpled to the ground. She made several valiant attempts to get to her feet, only to see Kathleen McCartney pass her and go on to victory. Julie didn't give up, though, crawling across the finish line 29 seconds later in a heartbreaking, yet inspiring scene.
Today she carries a videotape of the finish with her as she tours the country , making appearances for a running shoe company. The firm has sponsored her as she competes in a national series of triathlon races, gives clinics, and generally talks up triathloning.
Asked how often she's viewed the tape, the freckled redhead from Carlsbad, Calif., replies, ''Too many times. It's what I show people during TV interviews , but it's just a real small segment. What I like watching more is the whole race. Because by the time you've seen the swim and bike race, the drama is really incredible for the finish.''
Paradoxically, Julie spends a fair amount of time undoing the impression her finish has left with the public. It bothers her to see triathlons referred to as ''the ultimate torture tests'' or ''gruelathons.''