Triathlon is a labor of love for this Nassau native.
The small Bahamian island of Nassau doesn’t look like an ideal place to train for an Ironman—the roads are not smooth, there are no bike lanes, and the island itself is only 21.1 miles long. It’s puzzling enough to see Barbara Ann Bernard riding her bike on a dizzying series of loops around the island, but more so to see her doing it while pulling a trailer of dumbbells.
The training regimen is not a sadistic strength routine, but a way to substitute for the weight of her usual race-day partners—her cousin, Win Charles, who lives in Colorado, and a young Bahamian man named Renaldo Gibson. Despite having extensive physical disabilities, both have earned an impressive array of finisher medals thanks to Bernard.
“Although triathlon is often thought to be a solitary sport, that hasn’t been my experience,” says Bernard with a smile.
The 36-year-old hedge fund manager waves off talk about her individual accomplishments in triathlon, which include winning the Executive Challenge divisions at both Ironman and 70.3 World Championships. Instead, she’d much rather discuss how triathlon can be a vehicle to improve the lives of others. In addition to racing Ironman triathlons with her teammates in tow, Bernard organizes a triathlon in the Bahamas to raise funds for scholarships for students to study at United World Colleges, an international education collective. From day one, Bernard’s motivations as a triathlete have been altruistic:
“I was tasked with raising funds for UWC, and it was suggested that perhaps I might like to organize a ball,” recalls Bernard. “But I felt that far more in keeping with the UWC school spirit would be to introduce Nassau to a new sport, like triathlon.”
The only problem: Bernard had never raced or even seen a triathlon. Her knowledge was limited to enthusiastic water-cooler talk from her office mates. Bernard quickly signed up for a USAT Race Director clinic and a triathlon in New York that summer.
“I wasn’t racing for a time,” Bernard laughs. “My race day goal was to learn how to set up a race!”
Bernard was a quick study. The first UWC Triathlon Bahamas took place in the fall of 2011 with great local success. The sprint and Olympic events have since attracted athletes worldwide, including many of the top pros over the years, including Linsey Corbin, who has a UWC scholarship named after her. What started as a grassroots event to introduce Bahamians to a new sport has turned into one of triathlon’s most popular destination races.
Still, the race director will not tout well-known names or sold-out race registrations as markers of success. She will, however, proudly share stories of the students who can afford to attend college as the result of the UWC Bahamas Triathlon. Just like her bike rides around the islands with a weighted trailer, Bernard’s hard work as a race director is a labor of love.
“For me, triathlon is not about a finish line,” Bernard muses. “The joy is in the journey and the people I get to help on my way.”