OVER­COM­ING THE ODDS Triathlon­magazine.ca


Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - KEVIN MACK­IN­NON ED­I­TOR

KYRSTEN SINEMA SPENT two years of her child­hood liv­ing in a de­serted gas sta­tion. In­cred­i­ble poverty doesn’t come close to de­scrib­ing her early years. The next time you want to com­plain about there not be­ing hot wa­ter in the shower af­ter your masters swim, think of life for the Sinema fam­ily, who didn’t even have run­ning wa­ter and elec­tric­ity.

Sinema grad­u­ated from high school at 16. She went on to earn four dif­fer­ent de­grees, in­clud­ing a law de­gree and a doc­tor­ate, and now sits in U.S. Congress, rep­re­sent­ing the 9th District of Ari­zona. When your fam­ily lives in a de­serted gas sta­tion, you can be sure that swim lessons aren’t high on the pri­or­ity list of af­ter school ac­tiv­i­ties. Which is why, when Sinema de­cided she was go­ing to take on a triathlon, she had yet an­other ma­jor ob­sta­cle to over­come – learn­ing to swim.

It should come as no sur­prise that a woman who beat all the odds to make it to the U.S. Se­nate (as if her up­bring­ing wasn’t enough of a chal­lenge, Sinema is also the first openly bi­sex­ual con­gress­woman) would also learn to swim, but it wasn’t easy. Her first lessons were lit­er­ally spent get­ting the con­fi­dence to put her head in the wa­ter and blow bub­bles. She ended up do­ing back­stroke in her first four triathlon races. Even­tu­ally Sinema be­came good enough in the wa­ter to get her­self to the fin­ish line of an Iron­man. She did her first one in 2013 in her home state of Ari­zona. The sec­ond was last year in Kona at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship.

“I re­ally feel like my story is that of the Amer­i­can dream,” she says. “Over­com­ing chal­lenges com­bined with peo­ple help­ing each other. I’ve been helped along my whole life. When my fam­ily was home­less and hun­gry, peo­ple gave us food and clothes. When it was time to go to col­lege, the govern­ment gave me fund­ing through pro­grams, and my univer­sity gave me a schol­ar­ship.”

There’s been lots of talk about women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in our sport of late. While women make up about half the field in su­per sprint and sprint races, as the length of an event in­creases, the num­ber of women goes down. About 25 per cent of the field is fe­male at a typ­i­cal Iron­man here in North Amer­ica.

From its first day the In­ter­na­tional Triathlon Union man­dated that our sport would em­brace equal­ity. Apart from one in­stance where an un­equal bonus sys­tem was cre­ated for an event, ev­ery triathlon I’ve ever at­tended has had equal prize money for men and women. (Yes, I hear all of you be­hind the “50 for Kona” ini­tia­tive – but I am just talk­ing prize money. While Iron­man needs to get the num­bers right, at least the pro prize purse in Kona is equal.) As we go to print, five women from the U.S. na­tional soc­cer team are tak­ing their fed­er­a­tion to court be­cause, even though their team has won nu­mer­ous world cup cham­pi­onships and Olympic gold medals, they make a fourth of their male coun­ter­parts.

So how can we erad­i­cate the var­i­ous bar­ri­ers that make it dif­fi­cult for women to take part in our sport? Af­ter lis­ten­ing to Sinema, I now get how women’s only events can re­ally help, hope­fully cre­at­ing a less-threat­en­ing en­vi­ron­ment, es­pe­cially for the swim. I un­der­stand just how im­por­tant it is that we cre­ate men­tor pro­grams within our clubs. And, also, how im­por­tant it is that we cel­e­brate role mod­els like Kyrsten Sinema along with pros like Sara Gross, Melanie Mcquaid, Kirsten Sweet­land or Paula Find­lay.

Hope­fully we’re do­ing that here at Triathlon Mag­a­zine Canada, but I cer­tainly won’t say no to any sug­ges­tions you might have on other heroes we could tell peo­ple about, es­pe­cially if their sto­ries can in­spire oth­ers to fol­low in their foot­steps. Join us ev­ery day for the lat­est news, train­ing up­dates and gear re­views at Com­ing in May and June:


Kyrsten Sinema at the 2015 Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship with Karsten Mad­sen, cross triathlon spe­cial­ist

and pro­files on the Cana­di­ans gear­ing up for Rio

XLAB hy­dra­tion sys­tem, Asics’ new Gel-hy­per Tri 2

a pro triath­lete from Toronto in­volved in the new Ma­jor League Triathlon se­ries.

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