GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND -- On New Year's Eve, members of the island diving club always do something that may seem a little rambunctious to non-scuba divers: We enter the water at 11:50 p.m., sink about 50 feet to the sandy ocean floor near Treasure Reef and sip small quantities of a reasonably good champagne as the new year enters. We then switch off our lights, break open some underwater liquid chemical fireworks, and explore the reef for a few minutes. Our "two-year" dive is a wild -- but safe -- way to start the new year. Wild because few people would ever think of doing such a thing and safe because we're very carefully trained.

On this first Monday of 1988, I would like for you to do something as wild and safe: Commit to participating in the second Conch Man Mini-triathlon right here on Grand Bahama, Saturday, Nov. 26, 1988. Thanksgiving weekend.

You can do all three events yourself -- swim 1 mile, bike 10 miles and then run 4 miles -- or you can form a relay team with one or two other friends.

And that night, I want you to join others from the Washington area at my house for conch salad, broiled Bahamian lobster and baked grouper. All you can eat and dietetic rum punch, to boot.

Wouldn't it do something for your soul to just try something like a mini? Even walk home with a small trophy? Well, both will happen. All it takes is a commitment to do something wild, and -- boom! -- you have a reserved place in the Conch Man. You don't even have to commit until Jan. 18, when the next column will give final details.

More on this challenge in a minute, but first let me tell you about Conch Man I. Forty-eight relay teams and 30 triathletes participated, a total of 165 entries. Miranda Malone, age 7, was the youngest triathlete to compete on a relay team. She biked 10 miles in 37 minutes. Jo Leonard, a 56-year-old tourist from Chicago, was the oldest person to complete all three events. Jo, running in her bedroom slippers (she heard about the Conch Man at the last minute) finished in 3 hours and 4 minutes. David Morley, a Bahamian, had the best overall time at 78 minutes.

The event started and finished at Xanadu Beach, within sight of the penthouse suite where Howard Hughes, the man who had everything but his health, spent several years behind a closed curtain, not once (according to a close aide) looking at the beautiful strand of beach stretching miles below him.

Swim! At the gun, the triathletes splashed into a calm, clear sea and began to swim a triangular 1-mile course: over a small shipwreck, over a grassy bed filled with conch, between coral heads surrounded with fish and filled with crabs and hundreds of bright wrasses and finally back to the starting line.

Bike! Rushing from the sea, the triathletes stopped at the transition area (the hotel parking lot) just long enough to dump a bucket of fresh water on their heads and pull on shoes and shorts before jumping on bicycles. Relay team members tagged their partners. And 78 three-speed, 10-speed and one-speed bikes took off along the back Bahamian roads.

Run! At the transition area, bikes stopped, relay partners were tagged, and feet started moving.

Several people rested during their swim, stopped a time or two on their bikes, and seemed to walk for a good bit of their run, but that's okay. They finished. And when the final person had crossed the finish line, 75 certificates, 60 medals, and two giant gold-colored trophies topped off with gold-colored conchs were awarded. No self-respecting conch would approve of the color, but they all would approve of the effort.

And do you know what was the most interesting thing about all the participants? Very few of them were jocks, and most of them looked over 40. Very few of them were muscular, either. The Conch Man was filled with real people.

Like the people from the Washington area who invited themselves to dinner at my place when I mentioned the Conch Man several columns ago:

"I have always wanted to accomplish something athletic," Connie Schwenz said.

"I went into training right away, though I have never before attempted such a feat," said Lynn Haney.

Judy Talbert very nicely wrote, "Please set two more places at your table ... "

Gary Aldridge announced in no uncertain terms: "I intend to have dinner with you next Thanksgiving." (Until I know about Gary's size and physical condition, he can sit where he wants.)

Barbara Campbell had a practical comment: "It's probably about time I learned to swim ..."

Bob Beckman wants the Conch Man to be a "fitting preamble to beginning my 'mature years.' " He's approaching the big 4-0.

Well, if these people and others can commit to the entire triathlon, you can commit to at least part of it. Who's sitting around you right now that would make a good partner? Or have you ever thought about having Thanksgiving with your family on a tropical island? And married or not, how many of your friends would be surprised if you started training for a mini-triathlon?

Training and Other Obstacles:

"Okay, if I actually fall for this, how much time will it eventually take?" In the beginning, about 30-45 minutes, three times a week. Within a few months, the same time, five times a week. Until you start seeing progress, you're honestly going to hate training, too. But that will change.

Transportation and housing. Even though you train hard, you can't swim, bike, or jog to Grand Bahama, and plane tickets aren't free. But they won't be that expensive, either. We will be working on group fares (and cheap rooms) during the next couple of months.

Bikes: Airlines transport them for around $60 round-trip, and we will try to get a group rate for that, too. I also will try to round up spare bikes here from friends on a first-come basis.

One step at a time: In two weeks, I'm going to introduce you to some people who will be working with the Conch Outs (what do you think of our group name?) by mail each month. We are going to have great trainers-by-mail for all events, and a well-known preventive-medicine doctor to call on for written advice, too. Free advice is so nice. But for now, I want you to do a couple of things, even if you're only remotely thinking about doing something wild.

1. Talk to some friends about forming teams or simply training together. When I started my own remake I would have surrendered to inertia, despondency, and a big piece of chocolate pie dozens of times more than I did if it hadn't been for friends.

2. All of you find a stairway and try a test walk. Walking stairs alone can nearly prepare you for both the jogging and biking portions of the triathlon. And don't be disappointed if you can't make it six steps without giving up. Your endurance will come quickly here.

Will it be worth it? There are very few things I can tell you unequivocally, but from my own personal experience over the past two years I can tell you this effort will be life-changing. Even if you have to cancel at the last moment. Even if you don't finish the event. Even if you do it at home. It will be life-changing because your health will change, your personal pride will increase and you'll be a more adventuresome person from now on.

The side benefits: Anyone who works hard enough to tackle a mini-triathlon deserves some fun, and my friends and I will see that you all have it. We're going to have a special introductory scuba course for those of you who want it. Half a day and you'll make a scuba dive. And a bald expert and his female assistant will give free pointers on "swoon" walking, male and female versions.

Each of you will receive a special award, too, even if you don't finish the Conch Man -- a "conch out" certificate suitable for framing.

All you need to do is make a commitment, and in the words of another Washington-area entrant, Larry McKay: "As for making a commitment {to the race}, I think it to be much more important for me to first make a commitment to myself, which I hereby now do!"

Please take that pledge. The only thing you have to fear about the Conch Man is my cooking. And a triathlete can survive even that.