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I am Clarice Lorenzini, the second Asian-American female to turn pro in triathlon. I am the daughter of immigrants: A Filipino mother and a French father. And I am ready to help change the face of this sport.
I wasn’t always proud of my heritage. In elementary school, kids would come up to me with their fingers pulling their eyes into slants and taunt, “Clarice can’t see!” They’d make fun of my white-rice lunches, which my mother had lovingly made. They’d point out the darker patches on my skin–markers of my Filipino DNA–and call me dirty.
Or worse, I’d be called that C-word that rhymes with rink. I got a lot of that. Later, in high school, my classmates saw my maiden name, Chastang–which is French–and made the leap to “Chang,” assuming I was Chinese. “Chang” stuck and it was my nickname for a few years. I didn’t like it, but I went with it. Maybe I didn’t want to make a big deal about correcting them. Or maybe, by then, I was just desensitized to those types of microaggressions.
Growing up Asian in a mostly white community in upstate New York, this is just the type of stuff I grew used to experiencing as a kid. Was it right? Of course not. But did I know better? Not really. And even if I did feel like it was wrong, I never wanted to call out the differences between my peers and I. In fact, it wasn’t until very recently–in the wake of all of the anti-Asian violence occurring around the country, including the Atlanta shootings last week–that something sparked in me, allowing me to feel emboldened enough to speak up and share my story. There was once a time when I defied both of my parent’s cultures to fit into American norms. But I am no longer ashamed.
First, I want to emphasize that I haven’t experienced discrimination as a triathlete. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite: At the end of the day, we are all on the race course together, suffering to reach the same finish line. There is a bonding experience that typically transcends race and ethnic backgrounds. But I have noticed that I am a minority out there. In any given race, I’m usually one of the only Asian women in my age-group, or even among all of the competitors. Now, when I race pro, I know I will likely be the only Asian-American woman on the starting list. That’s something that sticks with me and makes me question: Why is this? And what can I do about it?
I can’t speak for all Asian-Americans, of course, but personally my mom didn’t want me to go into triathlon–for reasons rooted in her culture. I actually had to keep my passion for triathlon a secret from her. When I was in college and still living with my parents, I trained for my first half-Ironman. I didn’t even tell my mom what I was doing. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t support me or didn’t want me to be active–being fit is very important in the Filipino culture–it was more that she just didn’t understand the sport. For my mom and many Filipinos and even people in other Asian cultures, swimming isn’t seen as something you do for fun or exercise. It was a means to an end for her: To get food. The ocean across from my mom’s house in the village of Cebu was filled with fisherman getting their catch for the market. It wasn’t a place where you’d go for recreation or sport. And as for biking and running? Forget it. She thought both were far too dangerous; that I’d get hit by a car or pass out from exertion in the sun. My Filipino friends and I always joke that it was like our parents would bubble wrap us if they could. It’s almost ingrained in their mentality as parents to do everything they can to keep us out of harm’s way.
I never told my mom I was hoping to go pro in triathlon–I didn’t even tell her I was racing last fall at Ironman Florida, where I got my pro card. I just knew she would stay up all night worrying about me falling off my bike or running out there for hours and hours. Besides, there’s a lot to be said about the way many Asian families place an emphasis on education so as to get a good, lucrative job, especially among immigrant parents who really just want their children to have everything that they didn’t. I know my mom is proud of me for achieving my dream. But, suffice to say, I’m not going to get rich off of triathlon–at least not off the bat. I still have a full-time job, but if I ever were to leave that to focus more on triathlon, I know it would be concerning for her.
Is that the reason there aren’t more Asian-American women in pro triathlon? Because it’s perceived as “too hard” by our immigrant parents, or because it’s not a job that will make us rich? I can’t say for sure. But I do know that the greater Asian community doesn’t seem entirely accepting of the sport just yet. I now have a sense of purpose in putting myself and my story out there to encourage others that all are welcome in this sport. And maybe there’s a young Asian girl who will see me out there and want to follow in my footsteps one day.
Like I said, I’ve never felt ostracized in triathlon as an Asian-American. And yes, I could easily go about my business and train and race without drawing attention to my ethnicity. But as a new pro triathlete, I have a bigger platform than ever before. I see it as a chance to advocate for myself and for other Asian-American and Pacific Islanders who have, like me, been mocked or treated unfairly at some point in our lives. It’s important for me to be genuine and authentic and have that ability to speak up and stand up for who I am so others are encouraged to put themselves out there, too. It’s time to stand up and instill change.
Clarice Lorenzini, 27, most recently won the 25-29 age-group division at Ironman Florida in November, finishing 2nd overall among age-groupers and earning her pro card. She will make her pro debut at Ironman Coeur d’Alene on June 27.