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Bob Babbitt shares a story about the adventurous side of four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington.
The year was 2009. A few months earlier, England’s Chrissie Wellington had won her second consecutive Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. With her big race behind her, it was time to relax, unwind and recharge the batteries for the next season. Other professional triathletes tend to call this time of year “the off-season.”
For Chrissie Wellington, though, the off-season was never about lying around a pool in some tropical paradise with a fruity drink nearby. Nope. What Ms. Wellington did in her non-training time was most often harder than what she and her colleagues had to deal with on race day. Did her off-season adventures tend to make her tougher than any of her competitors?
You be the judge.
Tina and Seb, close friends of Wellington, invited her to their 2009 wedding in Argentina. Chrissie and her longtime friend, renowned mountaineer Billi Bierling, roomed together before the wedding, and the two women traveled to the ceremony together—on mountain bikes. “We were staying about three hours away,” remembers Chrissie, “so we put our dresses in our rucksacks and rode over.” After the wedding, a group of six, including the bride and groom, Chrissie and Billi plus their friends Rata and Helen, set off together on mountain bikes for a little adventure honeymoon across the Andes mountains. “I don’t think Tina ever really invited us along, but we went anyway,” says Chrissie, laughing. “No one had ever mountain biked this particular area before.”
What started as a Jeep road soon became a narrow sand trail before petering out entirely. “We were bushwhacking over glaciers with 65 pounds of gear in our panniers,” recalls Chrissie. “There were times when we averaged only two kilometers an hour for 10 straight hours. We weren’t covering a lot of ground.”
When they came to rivers that they couldn’t get around, Tina pulled out ropes, carabiners and pulleys so that bikes, people and equipment could eventually be pulled over the top to safety. On day five, the inevitable happened: They ran out of food. Leave it to the Ironman world champion to come up with a solution. “We went up to this farmer’s house, who I imagine was living quite happily before having the six of us barge into his life,” Chrissie says. “We told him we were out of food and he offered to slaughter one of his goats for us. The next thing I knew, we were at his table eating his goat.”
Two days later, the adventure honeymoon came to a successful conclusion and the six amigos went their separate ways.
Chrissie Wellington recently announced her retirement from Ironman racing. While I certainly wanted to see her race again in Kona, after winning 13 races in a row at the iron distance along with four Ironman World Championship titles without a loss, I understood why she felt it was time to hang up her Cannondale Slice.
“What makes Chrissie so successful,” says her friend Bierling, “is that her physical strength is out of this world and her mental strength and ambition have never changed. Chrissie told me once that these adventures that we go on make any event seem so much easier. On race day, you know what you’re doing and what you have in front of you. But when you’re out in the wild, you never really know what might be awaiting you.”
Chrissie Wellington has been released back into the wild. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Bob Babbitt is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com.
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