Woman Triathlete Has The Courage To Endure
Los Angeles Herald Examiner • February 10, 1984
One of my goals is to help women, to encourage them to participate in sports. A lot of women are crippled by lack of confidence.” — Beth Davis, Triathlete.
Beth Davis grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, with a lot of dreams. But like others, Davis was kept from realizing some of her dreams by her own fears. Then she started running and eventually became a professional triathlete. And now she’s living in Los Angeles, training for triathlon events. Davis, 26, was interviewed by Herald staff writer Robert Palm.
Question: What exactly is the triathlon?
Davis: It’s a multisport endurance event, incorporating swimming, biking and running. It’s the sport of the ’80’s.
Q: Says who?
A: Well, last year, 250,000 people took part in triathlons all around the world.
Q: What are the standard distances in a triathlon?
A: A mile-and-a-half swim, then a 25-mile bike ride and then a run of between nine and 10 miles. That’s the short triathlon. The Iron Man Triathlon is a 2.4-mile open ocean swim, then a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26-mile marathon run.
Q: As a spectator sport, are the Iron Man events more likely to attract crowds just on the promise of watching some masochistic maniac self-destruct?
A: That’s what attracts attention, yes. But the sport has already begun to refine itself. The distances will decrease, and there will be more finesse. There will probably be a mile swim, a 15-mile bike and a six-mile run. A mini-series is starting this summer around those distances and that’s where you’ll see mass participation. And the sport needs that if it’s going to survive. The pros will generate interest through television coverage, but if it’s going to stay around, it’ll have to be like running, where thousands of people get involved.
Q: What got you so obsessed with triathlons?
A: Fear. I had a lot of fear all my life – of success, fear of people getting close to me, fear that I might make a mistake, that I’m not perfect. I didn’t think I was capable of taking care of myself or of taking risks. I lived in my head. I was a big thinker, a big talker, but I never followed it up with any kind of action.
Q: Did you plunge right into triathlons?
A: No, I was cautious, even once I started to train. The technical aspect – the mechanics of the bike – was very foreign to me, and I was afraid to lay it on the line. Last year, I planned to enter one event and I ended up doing eight.
Q: These were sanctioned events?
A: They were races that just popped up around the country. Then there is the United States Triathlon Series, which is sanctioned. My first race was a USTS event in New York City, and if you finished in the top 20 in your age category, you’d qualify for the world championship in September. And I did qualify, although I never planned on really getting into this thing. I thought they were just being nice to me by inviting me to the championship, but the director said, “What are you thanking me for? You got in here on your own merits.” And I was floored.
That’s how low my self-esteem was. I knew I needed more confidence and that’s one of the reasons I entered the New York City Marathon. I didn’t know where my business career was going. I was shy and fearful, so I thought, “Well, OK. I’ll work on it in sports and maybe it’ll transfer into my business and personal life.”
Q: You must have had some confidence in your athletic ability to enter the New York City Marathon.
A: No, not really. I’d run a few three-mile races, but the marathon is 26. I trained for three months. I ran through Central Park during the week, and did my long runs on the beach in New Jersey.
I was determined to stick with it. I had to do it.
During the race, I started off with a friend who had helped me train, but I lost him at the 11-mile mark when he stopped to go to the bathroom. So I realized, OK, this is your race. I ran it one mile at a time and I visualized two hands behind my back that were pushing me along. The last eight miles I just kept saying to myself, “Let’s go.” I was amazed at how strong I became. My friends took a picture of me at the finish line and I’m just smiling and feeling so high. Then I cried, not out of exhaustion, which is what I’d projected would happen, but out of happiness and because I’d actually done it.
Something else was working for me, a spiritual thing and that’s where my confidence came from.
I finished in under four hours, which is good for a first marathon. The winning woman’s time was like 2:30. I got some coverage in the local paper in Kentucky.
Q: What is this “something else” you speak of?
A: One of my goals is to help women, to encourage them to participate in sports. A lot of women are crippled by lack of confidence. They were never encouraged to try things out of the ordinary, especially in Lexington, Ky. You’re raised to believe that a man would come along, marry you, and fix everything, take care of everything. It’s still pretty backward. There was something in me that made me keep looking, even though I didn’t know what I was looking for.
Q: And it turned out to be the triathlon?
A: Seems like it. The first one I did was a 13-hour ordeal from New York to Philadelphia in 99-degree heat. I’d never gone two miles in the ocean before – this was the Hudson River, actually – but it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t a competition. It was a fund-raiser for the Statue of Liberty, for restoration. Fourteen of us got together, most of them from California. They’d done the Hawaii Iron Man, they all had reputations as world-class athletes. And then there was me. I was proud and excited.
The course was to swim from Battery Park around the Statue of Liberty to Liberty Park, NJ. Then we got on our bikes and rode over the bridge to Staten Island and down through New Jersey to Camden. Then we got in a rowboat and rowed across the Delaware River like George Washington did. Then we landed in Philadelphia and ran over to the Liberty Bell.
Q: Were you afraid?
A: Well, I’d never ridden more than 30 miles on a bike, and I’d never swum two miles in open water, So I was fearful, yes. But it wasn’t that bad, really. I only saw one bottle in the Hudson. The worst thing was all these little pink jellyfish that felt like putting your arms through fiberglass insulation. And the night before I was crying and thinking that I’d never be able to do it. But I meditated and realized that it wasn’t my will that was helping me do it. It was another power.
Q: Isn’t an Iron Man competition the extreme example of self-will run riot? Isn’t it a big ego trip?
A: There are some people who are in it for that, yes. And there are others for whom it’s a spiritual experience, an inner journey. There was one race that I did in a lot of pain. By the time I’d gotten through the 60-mike bike part, I could hardly stand it. A friend sat me down, helped me change by shoes, and I started running. The first seven miles took me two hours. I was almost walking, the pain was so bad. So I had this conversation where I said to God, “Look, I’m either going to have to call it a day, or somehow get to that second threshold. You decide.” I stopped, stretched and then got this tremendous charge of energy. I just did it. I passed all these people who had passed me before and I finished tenth. I was ecstatic.
Q: Back in Lexington you had a dream. Have you found what you were looking for?
A: Before I started training, I was on a path of self-destruction. Through a series of events, I discovered that there was another way to live, that I actually had a reason to live, a purpose. It had to do with something outside myself and came from some power within myself. And I came to see how to integrate the physical, the mental and the spiritual. I guess that’s what I always wanted.