OVERCOMING THE ODDS Triathlonmagazine.ca
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:
BEHIND THE SCENES OLYMPIC UPDATES
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.