Good Sport

By Karen Lethlean, 65. Sydney, NSW

Don’t mean to brag, but I’m a Triathlete, of some repute. This happened on one of my first races as part of the Australian team, competing overseas in Honolulu. World Champs, Olympic distance race.

Great course around parkland one end of the famous Waikiki strip. All race set, fit, jumping out of my skin, happy with my preparation, ready for a blinder. Only for everything to come crashing down. Don’t worry — not literally — but a bike issue. Heading around one side of Diamond Head, something goes twang. I couldn’t get out of big gear, each pedal push felt like giant steps up, under pressure, on the spot. Going nowhere, I limped back to transition.

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. Pretty soon officials were giving us the once over, as the race leaders were fast approaching the transition area. I told him I’d head back to the team hotel to clean up, wash away my DNF (Did Not Finish) feelings.

“Catch up later in the day? Maybe at the after party, or for a few drinks at the Oz team café.”

Seeing as I planned to head there anyway, I agreed, reminding myself of potential benefits of keeping in good with someone from Cervelo. Work my cards right and there could be a sponsorship deal.

When we caught up later, I wore a race T-shirt from Thailand, with a small error added — the point missing from swim distances. Paul, the Cervelo guy, noticed.

“Wow,” he says, “you did a tri with an 18k swim! You must be the strongest tri-chick I know.” 

His warm hand on my upper arm, as if feeling for swimmer’s muscles. Amusing, but I let him know the truth. Couldn’t really wear that kind of accolade. Besides, I didn’t really think being called a tri-chick complimentary.

Afterwards, Paul offered to walk me back to the team hotel, saying, “those homeless vagrants who hassle touristy types for money won’t know how fast you can run.”

The whole time I’m thinking: Don’t be offensive. Besides, he is cute. I’d like to keep in contact.

Along the pathway he reached out to hold my hand. Again, I am thinking: nothing wrong here — attractive and fun. Never considered for a moment triathlon as a sport where they earn sponsorship via a casting couch. Top triathletes, male and female, were offered goods and expertise based on ability, 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 to kiss me. When I tried to shove him away, Paul grabbed my hair and backed me towards a tree. Shoved like that I felt his body heat and an erection. My mind raced. Shit! Probably about 30 seconds to act, so with my head is being dragged back, I looked 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 the shit out of Paul, scream. The whole thing made me so angry, but my inner street-wise kid knew calmness brought power, right now. Tired triathlete, put my heart and soul into this morning’s race, at least the part of it I completed. A few drinks consumed with fellow triathletes. I am a 60 kg 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 the high-rise hotels. Wishing the whole time my sweaty palms wouldn’t give the cool calm ruse away.

In the foyer, lit, peopled, aura of safety, I dropped 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 call the police to hunt you down, if you come near me or this hotel. I will destroy you. You creep!”

As all his tumbles out, a couple of those big island dudes who work the front desk crowded around. Threatening Paul even though they wear Hawaiian print shirts.

At the time, I should have told someone — but with no evidence, feeling foolish, stupid, and naive. Who’d believe? No doubt Cervelo management would probably wave me off, insisting this Paul didn’t even work for them. For all I know Paul is some random, predatory arsehole. Yep, he wore a corporate shirt (easy to get) yet never showed me a business card. Bringing up the incident again rehashed my embarrassment and being cut down by corporate honchos might end up bad for me. Making such a claim could impact any possible future sponsorship deals. My reputation tarnished, gossip spreads, tainting all sorts of opportunities. Even now I’d love to kick Paul in the nuts, and while down dig my knees into his chest for good measure.

He must have planned the whole thing, followed me around long enough to figure out I was alone. Probably done this before and will do so again.

This event wound up being one of the catalysts for increasing my distances leading to my success at the Ironman distances. Decided being alone all those long, long training hours not such a bad option. First time I qualified for the Kona race, I rejected the free Cervelo T-shirts they were handing out. Images of Paul’s scowl kept popping onto my brain out there on the lava fields. I knew to tap into strengths he never imagined. Made for a strong finish.

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