Good Sport

  by Karen Lethlean Contributing Writer  


on’t mean to brag, but I am a Triathlete of some repute. This happened on one of my first races as part of an Australian team, competing overseas in Honolulu World Championship, Olympic distance race. Euphoria at wearing my country’s colors is now always overshadowed by a tightening in my chest, breath robbing heart thumping.

Great race course through parklands one end of famous Waikiki strip. We sampled gargantuan ice creams, fantastic pizza and screwed up our noses at Spam on breakfast menus. Buzzing to receive an Australian sticker for my helmet. I thought the worst thing to worry about were encounters with homeless who milled about on foreshores. One of my teammates remarked, “Suppose it’s easy to live on the beach in weather like this.” All race set, fit, jumping out of my skin, happy with preparations, ready for a blinder. Only everything came crashing down, don’t worry not literally, but I encountered a bike issue, right where cycle course headed around one side of Diamond Head, looking out to sea at rolling Pacific waves, something went twang. Gear cables, I think, but suddenly I couldn’t get out of big gear, each pedal push down felt like giant steps up a ladder, under pressure, on the spot. A bit like gym wind-trainer cycle sessions. I’m going nowhere fast, so I limped back to transition knowing my race day as good as finished. Even if I ran my times did not include a full bike course, so officials probably wouldn’t let me continue. Also milling about in the transition area, a representative from Cervelo Bikes came up to look at my bike, yep, he agreed, broken gear cable. We talked about my bike set up, and he did seem to know his stuff. Got to admit I relished this encounter with an Australian accent as we chatted about his working, managing Pacific Sales and Research, and life as an expat. “Grew up, Northern Suburbs of Sydney,” he tells me. Soon officials are giving us once-overs, because race leaders approach. So I told him I’d head back to our team hotel to clean up, wash away my D.N.F feelings. Just as I bundled up my gear, this guy asks, “Would you like to catch up later? Maybe at the after party or for a few drinks at the café Oz team has adopted as home base.” Seeing as I planned to head there anyway I thought his suggestion safe, and let’s face it, an athlete should always be polite and enjoy company of people in support industries. Especially as Cervelo bikes were currently infiltrating triathlon scenes and bike expenses are a big-ticket number. A triathlete can get into major debt with bike products. You never know, work my cards right, and might be possible to score a sponsorship deal. How great to be able to access Cervelo wind tunnel-testing facilities or get innovative cycle technology and advice from experts. I’d be knocking on those doors very soon, worth a try getting my foot into tiny openings early. When we caught up later, I wore a race T shirt from Thailand, where a small proof-reading error added to wearer’s reputation in a big way – the point absent from swim distances – Paul, noticed – “Wow,” he says, “you did a tri with an 18k swim! You are a damn strong tri-chick.” His warm hand on my upper arm, as if feeling for swimmer’s muscles. Shared his amusement but felt guilty and let him know about T-shirt printing errors, couldn’t really wear that kind of accolade. Still nice he noticed. Besides, I didn’t really think being called a tri-chick terribly complimentary. Beer and Pizza handed out, gear-swaps happening, no one else paid any attention to my obscure top, but more than one American asked about our green and gold Aussie tracksuits. Next most popular swap number being bright maple leaved daubed Canadian rig-out. I’d purposely left my team clothing back in the room. I wanted to frame them, keep everything to show family, encourage my nephews and nieces. Paul stuck close; we shared a few Mai Tais, jokes and laughs. Eventually Paul offered to walk me back to the team hotel, even though only a few blocks away. Citing vagrants, looking for targets, touristy types to hassle for money. Unable to differentiate between triathletes and vacationers. The whole time I am still thinking, don’t be offensive, and besides he’s cute, nice mannered, and I thought I’d like to keep in contact when I get back home. Along a tree-lined pathway, he reached out to hold my hand. Again, I am thinking nothing wrong here, we find each other attractive, and he’s fun company. Not that I ever thought triathlon as a sport where earning sponsorships via a ‘casting couch’ option even existed. Top triathletes, male and female are offered goods and expertise based on ability, and wealth, right? Paul says, “There’s a shortcut through the park.” I can see wide, well-lit paths, so I am thinking, no problems, I am tired and it will be good to get back to the hotel quickly. In a dark place, he grabbed me, pushed his face in kissing me. When I tried to shove him away, Paul grabbed my hair and backed me towards a tree. Shoved, with bark scratching my butt, I could feel heat and his erection. My mind raced. Shit! Probably had about 30 seconds, so as he drags my head back, I look into his face, hurting. Said, “Hey, why here? Perfectly nice room back at hotel, if you want to come up.” He let go of my hair. My brain said, don’t run, keep walking, keep holding his hand. Get to the hotel. Every part of me wanted to beat shit out of him, scream. Made me so angry, but my inner street wise kid knew right now, calmness brought power. Tired triathlete, put my heart and soul into this morning’s race, at least part of it I managed to complete, consumed a few drinks with fellow triathletes. I’m a 60kg female, if I tried to run he’d probably catch me before too long, and at least he hadn’t hit me. My head became a busy place while we walked between high-rise hotels. Wishing my sweaty palms won’t ruin my cool, calm, in control ruse. Back in the foyer, lit, peopled, aura of safety, I drop his hand. Shoved his gym pumped chest. “Get the hell away from me, if you son of a bitch, or I will scream. I’ll get police to hunt you down. If you come near this hotel or me again, I will destroy you. You creep!” As all this tumbles out, a couple of those big island dudes who work front reception desks crowd around. Threatening Paul even though they are wearing Hawaiian print shirts. He must have planned the whole thing, followed me around enough to figure out I was alone, probably done this before and will do so again. This event wound up being a catalyst for increasing my distances leading to my success at Ironman distances. Decided being alone all those long, long training hours not such a bad option. First time I qualified for Kona World Ironman Championship race, I rejected Cervelo t-shirts they were handing out, images of Paul’s scowl kept popping onto my brain out there on oven-hot lava fields, made me sure I would finish strong.  
  About the author: Karen Lethlean’s stories and writing have appeared in such magazines as Pendulum Papers, Barbaric Yawp and A piece about a transgender triathlete featured on South Coast writers website. In another life Karen is a triathlete who has raced for Australia as well as completing the World Championship Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, twice!