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A Different Kind of Triathlete

September-October 2004

You know that new activity you've wanted to take up? Maybe it's something eclectic, like cooking Thai food from scratch, souping up old cars from the junk heap, or even completing a triathlon. Jayne Williams '85, author of Slow Fat Triathlete (Marlowe/Avalon) wants you to get a move on.

A few years back, Williams was both injured and out of shape. Dabbling in college basketball had left her with a nagging ankle injury, and her sedentary cubicle job and worsening carpal tunnel problems posed serious obstacles to a healthy lifestyle. She might not have been in ideal condition to begin triathlon training, but that's just what she did.

Why triathlons? Something in the humor of it appealed to her. As she describes it: "Here you are, spending all your spare money and time so that you can wake up at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, tote your unwieldy gear around a parking lot in the dark, struggle into [your] wetsuit, plunge into the icy water at dawn, ride your bicycle with the wind knifing through your soaked clothes, and finish it all off with a run...And you love it. It's crazy! It's fun!"

Her training has been a slow but rewarding struggle. She isn't fast by the standards of the Ironman Hawaii, but her enjoyment of the sport is obvious, considering that she has gone to the trouble of writing a book to encourage other potential novices to get into the game. Slow Fat Triathlete is full of practical tips and lots of funny stories about wetsuits. Williams offers her own experiences as examples to help readers get over their fear of embarrassment and failure: being the slowest runner at club training or wiping out during the swim-to-bike transition doesn't have to be a big deal. She even provides a bonus chapter, "For People Who Love Triathletes," that discusses how triathlon training can affect family and work and vice versa.

What about the title? Slow Fat Triathlete is Williams's description both of herself and of the state of mind that makes training worthwhile. "Being a slow fat triathlete means being a beginner," she writes. "It's shorthand for anyone who can find it in themselves to do a little training and take part in triathlon at their own pace, on their own terms, for their own reasons, with a mix of pride and humor."

Her attitude toward unlikely but fulfilling achievements can apply beyond triathlons. Even those who pick up her book just because of its funny title may find themselves itching to try something new. Williams dismisses typical excuses with a chuckle. "Maybe you're thinking, 'I can't quit my job as widget manager and become a chocolatier because I don't know how to make truffles,''' she says. "Well, you can learn to make truffles."

The key is knowing what matters and what doesn't, and Williams offers hints that every beginner should keep in mind.

"Here's what's absolutely not important: What other people might think of you as a novice triathlete. Your results compared to anyone else's. Having the 'right' equipment. How long it takes you to get your goal. Here's what's important: Getting committed. Never giving up. Being patient with yourself. Having fun at every step."

~Emer Vaughn