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Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES -

That “girl next door” archetype im­plies some­one who’s cute, unas­sum­ing and hon­est. In the comic world, Betty was the girl next door, Veron­ica was the stop-archie-in-his-tracks vamp. While that in­tern would ar­gue she was a blonde ver­sion of Veron­ica, Heather Fuhr has al­ways been seen as “Betty-like” be­cause of the other facets of her char­ac­ter. Sure there were the mag­a­zine cov­ers and Sau­cony posters that ac­cen­tu­ated her looks, but those never de­fined Fuhr. It’s that “unas­sum­ing” com­po­nent that has al­ways stuck, and that word doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe Fuhr’s quiet na­ture. Ask any­one who has in­ter­viewed her – get­ting her to talk about her suc­cesses over the years is about as easy as run­ning a two-hour marathon. (Ac­tu­ally, any odds maker who has met Fuhr would say there’s more like­li­hood of the lat­ter than the for­mer. A few years ago she told me she hadn’t re­ally been do­ing any train­ing and was in hor­ri­ble shape … and then I found out she had just set a new course record in the Catalina 50 Miler.)

Even though she hasn’t lived in Canada for al­most 20 years now, the bot­tom line is that Fuhr is just so, well, Cana­dian.

Po­lite to the ex­treme, Fuhr was al­ways avail­able for in­ter­views, al­ways ap­peared at press con­fer­ences and had lots of pos­i­tive things to say and was a spon­sor’s dream. As she ran by her com­pe­ti­tion on the way to one of her 15 Iron­man ti­tles, she’d al­ways pro­vide a po­lite tap on the back, of­fer­ing up a bit of en­cour­age­ment. To this day I’ve yet to meet a sin­gle one of her com­peti­tors who has a neg­a­tive thing to say about Fuhr. In 1997, as she passed her men­tor, friend and train­ing part­ner Paula Newby-fraser at mile 12 of the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship, the tap was there again. Even the most suc­cess­ful women’s triath­lete of all time couldn’t muster up any an­i­mos­ity at get­ting passed by Fuhr on the sport’s big­gest stage. Newby-fraser was gen­uinely thrilled that Fuhr was beat­ing her. She’s so like­able that even though she’s tasked with tak­ing care of over 1,000 reg­is­tered pro­fes­sion­als for Iron­man, and rou­tinely has to tell them they’re not go­ing to get what they want, they all still love her.

So do I have any­thing to say that might im­ply there’s a hid­den Veron­ica in this girl next door that is Heather Fuhr? There’s so much more to her story than sim­ply triathlon’s most suc­cess­ful “girl next door.”

eather Fuhr grew up just out­side of Ed­mon­ton, play­ing “ev­ery sport imag­in­able” at her el­e­men­tary school in Duffield (about 65 km west of Ed­mon­ton) and then fo­cus­ing more on run­ning in ju­nior high and high school. It was at high school in Stony Plain that she met Roch Frey, a com­pet­i­tive swim­mer. Both com­peted for the Univer­sity of Al­berta – he in the pool and her in cross coun­try and track. The two have re­mained a cou­ple ever since they met.

Frey had done his first triathlon in 1983 but, since she couldn’t swim, Fuhr had never fol­lowed him to the mul­ti­sport world. In 1988, though, as she saw her run­ning per­for­mances plateau, she de­cided to see what she was miss­ing in this new sport. She signed up for a stroke im­prove­ment class and, like all good ath­letes do, quickly im­proved. Within a few months she had gone from barely com­plet­ing 25 m to swim­ming 1,500 m with­out stop­ping. Her first triathlon was the Turkey Trot in Cal­gary, where she swam 1,000 m in a 25 m pool, biked 20 km on a sta­tion­ary bike and ran 5 km on an in­door, 200-m track. Sup­ple­ment­ing her run­ning with swim and bike train­ing seemed to help – she fin­ished fifth at the 1989 Cana­dian In­door Track Cham­pi­onships in the 1,500.

De­spite the run­ning suc­cess Fuhr had be­come a self-pro­claimed “tri-geek” and was fol­low­ing Frey around to var­i­ous triathlon events around the coun­try. While he had vi­sions of turn­ing pro, Fuhr was in the process of fol­low­ing up her com­merce de­gree and be­com­ing a char­tered ac­coun­tant, ar­ti­cling at Deloitte and Touche in Ed­mon­ton. In 1990, when he fin­ished his phys­i­cal education de­gree, Frey wanted to pur­sue triathlon more se­ri­ously, and wanted to move some­where with a more hos­pitable triathlon train­ing cli­mate. Fuhr de­cided she was in, too, and took a leave of ab­sence to “get this triathlon thing out of her sys­tem.”

The two ended up in San Diego, Calif., then the haven of the sport’s top pro­fes­sion­als. For four years they would spend their win­ters in San Diego and the sum­mers back in Canada. In 1990 Fuhr com­peted in Kona as an age grouper, then raced in New Zealand the fol­low­ing year. By this point she was hav­ing enough suc­cess that she de­cided to turn pro. She never quite made it back to Deloitte and Touche: “I ran away from that [be­ing an ac­coun­tant] and just kept run­ning – lit­er­ally,” she says.

Iron­i­cally it was Fuhr who ended up en­joy­ing the long-term pro­fes­sional ca­reer. Frey en­joyed a jour­ney­man’s time in the sport be­fore grav­i­tat­ing to the coach­ing ranks and be­com­ing one of the sport’s premier coaches. In 1995 he took on a po­si­tion as a swim coach at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego, at which point Cal­i­for­nia went from a win­ter haven to full-time res­i­dence and so­lid­i­fied their po­si­tion as two of the main­stays in the San Diego triathlon scene. They be­came friends with an­other fa­mous San Diego cou­ple of the time, Paul Hud­dle and Paula New­byFraser, even­tu­ally set­ting up a coach­ing com­pany called Mul­ti­sports.com that quickly be­came the most rec­og­niz­able coach­ing group in the sport. Hud­dle, like Frey, was a de­cent triath­lete but ar­guably a much bet­ter coach and the two quickly made their marks in that part of the sport while their part­ners con­tin­ued to ex­cel on the race course.

While Frey’s re­sume in­cludes other cham­pi­ons like Peter Reid, it would be hard to ar­gue that his big­gest coach­ing suc­cess has been his wife. While they man­aged to make it look easy, bal­anc­ing a mar­riage and a coach/ath­lete re­la­tion­ship was, at times, chal­leng­ing.

“It was tough at times,” Frey re­mem­bers. “Dur­ing the 1997 sea­son I stepped away al­most 100 per cent when she and Newby [Paula Newby-fraser] trained to­gether. It was good for us and then al­lowed me a new per­spec­tive when I was back coach­ing her for the next 10 years. It was hard­est to see her hurt dur­ing train­ing and rac­ing and want­ing to back things off, but know­ing that was part of what it takes to be a cham­pion and reach goals. We learned to shut off the coach­ing re­la­tion­ship at times and only be hus­band and wife, but it took some time to fig­ure out.”

“He was a great coach,” Fuhr says. “He knew me bet­ter than I knew me, and I had con­fi­dence in that. He was an in­te­gral part of ev­ery­thing we did.”

Fuhr also cred­its her re­la­tion­ship with Newby-fraser as a crit­i­cal com­po­nent to her suc­cess.

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