Paula Newby-Fraser

Natal swimmer and Ironman World Triathlon Champion


Paula Newby-Fraser and Simon Lessing are both world champion triathletes who started their careers in Durban, being inspired in the 80’s by all the endurance sports on offer in the sport mad province of Natal, such as Comrades Marathon, Dusi Canoe Marathon and Midmar Mile swim race.  

Paula was born on June 2, 1962 in Salisbury, Rhodesia and raised in Durban where she swam with coach Alisdair Hatfield. She represented Natal at SA Schools as well at the South African Senior Swimming Championships betwen 1975 and 1978. She finished second behind Esme Oosthuisen in the 100m butterfly in 1976. 

After school she finished a degree in psychology at the University of Natal, graduating in 1984. As a novice she entered - and won - the South Africa triathlon championships in 1984, which won her a trip to the Ironman in Hawaii. After that experience she wanted more, and so she left South Africa for the USA in March 1985 to concentrate on triathlons.

Paula won the Ironman World Championship, held every year in Hawaii,  8 times between 1986 and 1996. This race consist of a 3,86 km open water sea swim, a 180km bike ride and a 42 km run. These victories were so impressive that she was once named "The Greatest All-Around Female Athlete in the World".

Among numerous other awards, the United States Sports Academy named her as one of the top 5 professional women athletes of the last 25 years (1972–1997). Paula Newby-Fraser held the Ironman Women's world record of 8:50:28, until 2008-07-13, when Yvonne van Vlerken of the Netherlands posted a time of 8:45:48. Paula Newby-Fraser is regarded as an icon for the Ironman distance in triathlon.

The fastest time posted by a woman in Kona was 8:55:28 set by 8-time Ironman World Champion, Paula Newby-Fraser in 1992. Newby-Fraser dominated the lava fields of the Big Island for most of the 80's and 90's. Between 1985 and 1996, Paula finished no lower than fourth place. Her final Ironman World Championship was also a fourth place finish in 2001. There's a reason why she's known as the "Queen of Kona."

Paula Newby-Fraser is the only triathlete to transcend the sport. Certainly, she is the greatest triathlete of all time: Her 24 Ironman Championships are more than twice that won by triathlon legends Mark Allen & Erin Baker (8 each) and Dave Scott (7). Her 1988 Ironman finish (11th overall) has been called the "greatest performance in endurance sports his-tory". The Los Angeles Times, e-xtra and ABC's Wide World of Sports have acclaimed Paula "The Greatest All-Around Female Athlete in the World".

The Women's Sports Foundation named Paula it's 1990 " Professional Sportswoman of the Year", the most prestigious international award given to female athletes each year. The United States Sports Academy, CNN & USA Today! named Paula as one of top 5 professional women athletes of the last 25 years (1972-97).

•   8-Time Ironman Triathlon World Champion 1996, 1994, 1993,1992, 1991, 1989, 1988, 1986

•   24 Ironman Triathlon Career Wins(1986-2004)

•   Ironman World Record Holder (8:50:24)

•   "Professional Sportswoman of the Year " Women's Sports Foundation(1990)

•   Named "Greatest Triathlete in History" Triathlete Magazine (1999)

•   Named "Greatest All-Around Female Athlete in the World"ABC's Wide World of Sports & Los Angeles Times

•   Named "Female Pro Athlete of the Decade" Los Angeles Times for 1980's

The Top 5 Professional Female Athletes of the past 25 years (1972-97) as named by the United States Sports Academy from data collected from a CNN & USA Today! poll

1.            Martina Navratilova

2.            Steffi Graf

3.            Chris Evert

4.            Billie Jean King

5.            Paula Newby-Fraser

Awards & Accolades

•   Voted "Athlete of the Decade" by Readers of Active.com with 68% of the Vote

•   Inducted into The San Diego Hall of Champions Breitbard Hall of Fame

•   Listed #60 Sports Illustrated for Women’s Greatest Female Athletes of the century

Named "GREATEST OF ALL -TIME" by Triathlete Magazine



Paula Newby-Fraser Now Concentrating on Building Her Triathlon Resume

September 24, 1988

SAN DIEGO — Paula Newby-Fraser of Encinitas has done so well on the triathlon circuit this year that she recently quit her part-time job.

Newby-Fraser, 26, is no longer a travel agent but a full-time triathlete whose work this year in swimming, biking and running has pushed her near the top of the growing pool of talented women in her sport.

She is second in the U.S. Triathlon Series Grand Prix points, trailing Kirsten Hanssen of Denver by 225, entering Sunday's USTS stop at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. The race begins at 6:45 a.m.

Newby-Fraser said she will probably make almost $60,000 in winnings and sponsorship money this year. This week, she signed with The Weekend Exercise Company as her title sponsor. Goodby part-time job.

"I just decided in the last few weeks that I didn't want to work anymore," she said.

Newby-Fraser, who is from Zimbabwe and earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology from the University of Natal in the South African city of Durban, left her homeland in March 1986 to concentrate on triathlons.

Her first triathlon was in Durban in 1985. She trained just two months for it but won.

"I had a very good strong swim background, and I had just started doing a little running," she said. "I was a little shocked that I won it. The sport was just growing there, and there was about 5 or 6 women in the field. It sounds really good, but it probably wasn't such a great accomplishment."

It was enough incentive, however, for her to continue. Then she heard about a place where a number of triathletes live and train.

"I knew that San Diego was the place to be for triathlons, so I automatically moved here," she said. "I had met a couple of people from Leucadia and moved out initially to stay with them."

She received her green card earlier this year. It will be another 6 years before she can gain citizenship.

"It's a very long and very arduous and very expensive process," she said. "But I'm going through it nonetheless."

Newby-Fraser lives with triathlete Paul Huddle and biathlete Joel Thompson. It's more than coincidence that she and Huddle are each having the best years of their careers. They approached this year with a little different strategy than in the past.

"I decided at the beginning of this year that I had to train a lot harder and more consistently throughout the year," Newby-Fraser said. "And I have chosen to go to all the bigger races this year and just put myself out there and race against the toughest competition all year. I just have made me better racing against girls that are faster than me all the time."

She said Huddle, 25, fourth on the men's Grand Prix points list, has also improved from putting himself on the line against the best every race.

"I think that we both gained from the experience of not staying local, going to low-key races in Califor

Newby-Fraser next began running ultramarathon, which are running races of 50 km or more. She entered the Ridgecrest High Desert 50K in April 1997. She set a blistering pace, and won with a new course record of 4 hours and 6 minutes.

It's not so easy

 Sep 14 2010

"What follows is a 4-part series printed with the publisher's permission from "17 Hours to Glory: Extraordinary Stories from the Heart of Triathlon by Mathias Müller with Timothy Carlson." 17 Hours to Glory celebrates Kona’s Ironman® heroes—from ordinary people to true triathlon legends—with seventeen inspiring stories of unbelievable drive and true strength of character. The book is available in bookstores, tri shops, and online at VeloPress.com."

Part 1

The greatest Ironman triathlete of all time was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), and raised in Durban, South Africa. “I was a good girl growing up. A very good girl,” Paula Newby-Fraser told writer TJ Murphy about her childhood. Her father was a wealthy industrialist who owned a paint factory. Her mother was a university lecturer in psychology and social sciences. Newby-Fraser studied hard, got good grades, and excelled at ballet and swimming.

Her government-controlled all-girls school was strict. “The choices were limited. You did what you were told. You just did,” she recalled. At school the girls lined up every week for inspection, shortest to tallest. No talking, no earrings, no makeup. Lengths of skirts and fingernails were checked.

The outlet she found was sports. “Because there were no boys around, we didn’t have the social dimension to think about, to take up our energy,” she said. “Instead we focused on things like sports.” Girls who performed well at games were praised at assemblies and cheered by the crowd. But a career in sports was unthinkable. Proper girls married well or became teachers.

Ever practical, she embraced the discipline of her early school­ing and studied social sciences at the University of Natal in Durban. After graduating in 1984, she ditched academic life and embraced the town’s active party scene. When a friend said she was getting fat, they started running together and lifting weights. Sparked by her increasing fitness, Newby-Fraser checked out a local triathlon with her boyfriend. Though she thought the challenge was slightly ridicu­lous, her boyfriend convinced her to give the event a try the follow­ing year, and they bought bicycles and began training. Only 8 weeks after buying the bike Newby-Fraser won her first triathlon, setting a new women’s record for the course. She also finished 4th among the men, giving a hint of her power to come. Three months later she won the women’s division of the South African Triathlon and won a free trip to Hawaii to compete in the famed Ironman Triathlon.

There, in 1985, virtually unknown and relying on raw talent (she had never swum 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, or run a marathon), she placed 3rd. Moreover, she finished just 5 minutes 42 seconds behind the women’s winner, Joanne Ernst. That performance, along with what she had learned in preparation for the race, convinced Newby-Fraser that additional training could give her the tools to win.

On her way to Hawaii Newby-Fraser had stopped in San Diego—triathlon’s original mecca—and found a collective passion for the sport among the pioneers. In a story in Encinitas magazine, she said, “I planned to visit San Diego because of the great athletes that were there, like Scott Tinley, Mark Montgomery, and Colleen Cannon. I stayed at a friend’s in Leucadia and started doing all the famous workouts: the Tuesday run in Rancho Santa Fe, the Wednesday bike ride, swimming and track workouts at UCSD.”

When Newby-Fraser returned to South Africa she couldn’t shake Encinitas from her mind. “All I could think of was that I had to get back,” she said. After talking it over with her parents, she flew back to America with $1,000 in her pocket and moved into an apart­ment with fellow triathletes Linda Janelli and Maggie Smeal. During those first months she met the man who would become the lasting love of her life, Paul Huddle, an elite triathlete now recognized as one of the best triathlon coaches in the world.

In her second Hawaii Ironman in 1986 she eased into history when 1st-place finisher Patricia Puntous was disqualified for drafting and Newby-Fraser, who crossed the line 2 minutes later, inherited the vic­tory. She was awarded the $10,000-plus top prize, the first year the event offered a pro purse. When she heard that she had won, Newby-Fraser seemed stunned. “I just feel that I have no control over the situa­tion,” she told journalist Mike Plant. “I feel for her, but I have no control. I’m pleased that I’ve won now, but that’s just the way it goes.”

While her victory may have felt anticlimactic, Newby-Fraser’s winning time was a clap of thunder announcing the arrival of pro­fessional women to the sport. Her 9:49:14 mark broke the previous record by 36 minutes, and she was the first woman to break the Ironman 10-hour mark. Her finish would have won the men’s divi­sion in the first two Ironman contests and would have placed 2nd to the top man in the 1980 and 1981 events.

In 1987 Newby-Fraser started strong, holding the lead for 21 miles of the marathon, but then faded in the brutal heat. Two-time winner Sylviane Puntous of Canada, Patricia Puntous’s twin, was stalking her all day, and New Zealand star Erin Baker, a superb 2:36 marathoner and excellent short- and long-course triathlon star, caught both of them at mile 22. Newby-Fraser was tapped and could not fight back. Puntous, as was her habit in the early years of the sport, walked through the aid stations while the fierce newcomer Baker, shocked at the Canadian’s lack of warrior ethic, stormed past to a new record time of 9:35:25, with Puntous 1:32 back. Although she had broken her own 1986 course record by 9 minutes, Newby-Fraser fell to 3rd.

Afterward, Plant wrote, Newby-Fraser realized that winning the Ironman would demand her full attention. For her part, Baker said, “I had to concentrate like hell to get to the finish. I didn’t have anything left. I couldn’t smile.” From that point forward, every woman knew she would have to run every mile of the marathon to prevail.

Newby-Fraser’s remarkable Ironman finish in 1988 was the shot heard ’round the world of sport. Rival Erin Baker upped the ante tremendously, topping her year-old record by 23 minutes with a 9:12:14 finish. But Newby-Fraser slaughtered Baker by 11 minutes and her old standard by 34 minutes with a 9:01:01 finish. Indeed, Newby-Fraser appeared to be in a league of her own; her great­est rivals were men. She finished 11th overall, just a breath over 30 minutes behind the men’s overall winner, Scott Molina, and along the way she bested a string of certified men’s stars, including her boyfriend, Paul Huddle, by 3:45; Greg Welch by 6:13; Jeff Devlin by 9:53; and Peter Kropko by an amazing 20:36.

For all Joan Benoit Samuelson’s greatness, she never finished near the top 11 at Boston or in the Olympics. Florence Griffith Joyner would not have qualified for the men’s Olympic team. Only Ann Trason, who finished the 1995 Western States 100-mile trail run just 5 minutes behind the men’s winner, was in the same area code as Newby-Fraser in women’s remarkable push toward equality in endurance sports.

But Newby-Fraser, who maintained a highly disciplined, scien­tific approach to the sport throughout her career, was never carried away by the hype over her 1988 feat. “That year I had a good per­formance, and the men lagged,” she remembered. “The next year I went just a little bit quicker, but I was 51 minutes back of [men’s winner] Mark Allen. Had Mark been winning the race in 1988, the gap would not have been as small as it was.”

Over the next three editions of Ironman Hawaii, Newby-Fraser racked up similarly impressive results. In 1989 she topped women’s runner-up Puntous by 21 minutes. The next year, on a hot day, she proved she was human and lost another duel to Erin Baker, 9:13:42 to 9:20:01. She came back in 1991 to beat Baker by nearly 16 min­utes, giving her four wins in six years—a record that many an ath­lete might happily call a career. Yet all of these performances were but a buildup to one of the most remarkable years recorded by any athlete in triathlon.


Part 2

Newby-Fraser started her 1992 campaign by winning the three-quarters-Ironman-distance Nice International Triathlon. Two weeks later she won her fourth Ironman Japan in 9:16:13. Just a few days later she told Huddle she felt surprisingly good. As recounted by writer Ken McAlpine, Huddle replied, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Indeed, Newby-Fraser thought she could win Ironman Europe at Roth, Germany. Thirteen days later she did, in a then-world-record time of 8:55:00. While even the best triathletes take weeks to recover from the pounding and the energy-sapping dehydration of just one Ironman, Newby-Fraser had just won three Ironman-proportion events in five weeks, recording perhaps the greatest high-intensity stretch in Ironman history.

A mere 13 weeks after the European Ironman, she stepped across the finish line in Kona to take her fifth Ironman Hawaii title, setting an 8:55:28 course record that stood until 2009 and winning the women’s title by the biggest margin of the modern era, 26 min­utes 12 seconds, the triathlon equivalent of Secretariat’s 31-length Belmont Stakes win.

By this time Newby-Fraser, working with superagent Murphy Reinschreiber, had built an empire of sponsorships, appearance fees, and business deals that was estimated by Inside Triathlon to bring in half a million dollars a year. It was peanuts by the stan­dards of pro golf, tennis, and running superstars but groundbreak­ing in terms of the tiny niche occupied by the still emerging sport of triathlon. And in contrast to the pampered rich of mainstream sports, Newby-Fraser remained modest, utterly approachable, and without a shred of arrogance.

The following year’s preparation for Ironman Hawaii did not begin auspiciously. Newby-Fraser suffered an overtraining injury to her ankle, and the women’s field began to believe an upset was in the cards. “This year I was forced to take three months off from running and a month and a half from the bike,” said Newby-Fraser before the race, displaying a small wrap on her ankle. “This is the least prepared I have ever been for the Ironman. I just hope my years in the sport and my strength can carry me through.”

Erin Baker, the 1987 and 1990 Ironman women’s champ, wasn’t buying the “poor Paula” routine. “It would be stupid to think Paula won’t be tough,” said Baker. “But,” she added, “I expect a much bet­ter run out of myself.”

Baker herself had seemed like a prohibitive long shot, as in May she had given birth to a child. A few months later she had started training again and felt her strength return. Then Reebok offered her a three-year contract she couldn’t turn down—her husband, 1988 Ironman champion Scott Molina, was out of commission with a bad back, and Baker felt the need to take the sponsorship to support her family. She got retired Ironman champ Dave Scott to design a new training program for her Ironman. “I used to come to this race just feeling wasted,” said Baker. “But now Dave has me running shorter distances and faster times. I don’t just go out for 4-hour bike rides anymore. I run and ride shorter, faster intervals. And I feel fresher.”

Baker claimed she was stronger and more flexible since the birth of her son, Miguel, and said she was now blessed with a higher red-blood-cell count. “The birth has had the same effect as training at altitude,” she said. “All mothers get that at birth, and the increased red-blood count typically lasts nine months. And this is soon enough so it’s still true for me.” Baker added, “The most important thing is I am running harder at a lower heart rate in training. I am readier than I have ever been.”

Baker was kicked in the head right at the swim start and fell 5 minutes behind Newby-Fraser’s 53:29 swim. On the bike Newby-Fraser set a still-standing record of 4:48:30, topping Baker’s bike split by 1:36 and her own bike-split record set the previous year by 8 minutes. On the run, fighting exhaustion and lack of training mileage due to her injured ankle, Newby-Fraser held on grimly for a 3:16:54 marathon, which rewarded her with her second sub-9-hour Ironman and a final 3-2 edge in head-to-head Kona encounters with her not-so-friendly rival Baker.

In the race, Newby-Fraser had intrigued 1993 Ironman rookie Karen Smyers, the 1990 International Triathlon Union (ITU) short-course world champion from Massachusetts who had tested the waters of the Ironman with some trepidation and a touch of naive optimism. After finishing 4th, Smyers emerged with a deep appreciation of Newby-Fraser’s skills and toughness. “Paula? Geez. I know it was irrational, but part of me said if I can beat her by 2 minutes in a short race, in a long race I could beat her by 10 min­utes,” said Smyers. “I had never done a long course, so I did not know what the times meant. So Paula blowing away the competition there didn’t mean much to me until I saw her beat Erin Baker, who had won the first ITU World Championship and was nearly unbeat­able in short course. I have the utmost respect for Erin Baker. Erin went undefeated one year at all distances. That gave Paula’s Ironman record the most credibility with me.”

Afterward Newby-Fraser let down her guard a little about just how tough it had been. “I lost a part of myself, a part of my soul, out there on the run,” she said. “I think it’s still out there.”

Lost in the excitement that accompanied the Greg Welch duel with Dave Scott coming back after 40, Newby-Fraser won another pre­dictable dull-from-the-outside, gutsy-from-the-inside race in Hawaii in 1994. With Baker gone forever from Kona, Newby-Fraser’s clos­est challenger was now Karen Smyers, one year wiser about the demands of Ironman.

From the beginning Newby-Fraser’s 54:19 swim gave her an unexpectedly large lead over Smyers’s 58:22. On the bike Newby-Fraser’s 5:02:25 added another 8:30 to her lead. Starting with 12 minutes in hand, Newby-Fraser showed she was hurting with a 3:23:30 run, 18 minutes off her best time. Nevertheless, that subpar performance gave back only 4:37 to runner-up Smyers.

“I don’t know why it was such a tough day,” Newby-Fraser told Bob Babbitt of Competitor after the race. “I worked hard on the swim, and I had a terrific swim and bike ride. But I paid for it on the run.” She felt terrible starting the run and stopped 12 miles into the marathon. “When I got out of town, I stopped at an aid station on the highway and had a talk with myself,” she said. “Come on. Get it together. I’m having a hard day. Everyone has a hard day,” she told herself.

Then, foreshadowing the next year’s race, she said, “It’s not fun to have someone like Karen Smyers coming up from behind.” With 4 miles to go, Smyers was 7 minutes back. But, talking to herself all the way, Newby-Fraser ended up maintaining the 8-minute lead she had on the bike to take her seventh win.
When asked if she would come back in 1995, Newby-Fraser was ambivalent. “Mentally, I don’t know if I can make those kinds of sac­rifices. I have to put so much of my life on hold for this race. I’d like to come back and do this race again. But I don’t know if I’ll make the same kind of commitment.”


Part 3

Newby-Fraser was 36 years old, and the expectations that she could continue to lead the sport were gnawing at her. Despite achiev­ing a degree of dominance that prompted ABC Sports to call her “the premier woman endurance athlete of the century,” Newby-Fraser did not enjoy an emotional bond with her fans, largely because she played her cards close to the vest. After the fact, her victories often seemed too easy. In truth, though, those wins had come harder than the hype suggested. Baker had taken her down in 1987 and 1990, and in 1993 Newby-Fraser had to dig so deep in the heat to fend off Baker that she said, “I don’t know if I can do this again.”

And yet, of course, she did. At the start of her 1995 season, Newby-Fraser was on form once again with big-margin wins at Wildflower, Ironman Lanzarote, and Ironman Germany. “During the past couple of years it was hard work—not very exciting, but winning was everything,” she told Inside Triathlon. “The result was all important. I didn’t want to put myself through training and not win.” But always seeking to come closer to perfection, she soon found herself flying too close to the sun.

In midsummer she journeyed to Boulder, Colorado, triathlon’s new center of gravity, where she began training with Mark Allen. “I did things I thought I’d never do,” she told Deborah Crooks at Inside Triathlon as she embraced a new training blueprint incorporat­ing high mileage and high intensity. “I thought if I wanted to race like the men, I was going to train like the men. If Mark was going to ride 500 miles a week, I’d ride 500 miles a week. I’d go with Mark on a 150-mile ride. I was doing long runs at altitude, at 8,000 feet. I was getting stronger. I was breaking new ground in training. The journey there was an accomplishment.”

Coming into Ironman Hawaii, the greatest Ironman triathlete of all time set the stage for a grand exit by announcing that she would retire from serious competition after this race, her eleventh Kona assault. She was confident, having arrived rested, trained, and without injury for the first time in several years. “There will be no excuses,” she said. “This will be their last shot at me.”

Just 20 miles into the bike, Karen Smyers was shadowing Newby-Fraser when the riders were blasted with the opening salvo from some of the most brutal headwinds in Kona history. When 1991 and 1994 men’s podium finisher Jeff Devlin and some other contenders came along, Smyers recalled, “These guys beat me on the bike by 45 minutes, so I thought, I’ll just back off and I’ll let them go. Then Paula followed and just tore into the wind like an arrow. Before I knew it there was a huge gap I could not make up.”

Newby-Fraser had followed her 53:45 swim with 5:06:04 bike—phenomenal in the terrible winds—and was in command of an 11-minute, 30-second lead on Smyers at the second transition. Her charge looked unstoppable. In fact, by the end of the bike leg Newby-Fraser’s seemingly insurmountable lead prompted Huddle, calling the race on local television, to break tradition and predict victory. “In the Ironman, it’s never over till it’s over,” he intoned. “But with a lead like that, with Paula and her history, it’s over.”

But it wasn’t. Inexplicably Newby-Fraser had stopped refuel­ing. In her book Peak Fitness for Women, Newby-Fraser had laid out her winning strategy: “When I am racing, I am constantly check­ing every technical aspect of my performance. The efficiency of my swim stroke, my rpms during cycling, my leg turnover on the run. My nutritional requirements. I am constantly checking energy levels and monitoring fluid and solid food intake.” Yet that was not the case now.

The first outward sign that Newby-Fraser had abandoned her usual discipline came when she threw away her special-needs bag at the bike turnaround at Hawi. “I thought I was stretching myself on the bike, but as I started the run I thought I was well within myself,” said Newby-Fraser later. “I felt comfortable, and when I started run­ning I actually felt pretty good. And you know the bottom line was that Karen had a spectacular run. She was bearing down on me the whole way. Logically she still shouldn’t have caught me but by the time I got out of the Energy Lab, I realized I was suffering from some heat exhaustion. So I ate a banana and felt better and thought I would be able to make it.”

Smyers, headed to a near-record Kona marathon of 3:05:20, was chipping away and had whittled the margin to 3 minutes leav­ing the Energy Lab. There were 6.5 miles to go. With her half-mile lead, Newby-Fraser thought she had the race under control, but her seamless facade was crumbling, and her nerves were frayed under Smyers’s charge. Newby-Fraser blew past the last few aid stations, dancing on the edge of meltdown. A crash into a careless aid-station volunteer with 3 miles to go—she fell hard and popped back up immediately—was another sign that she was running on empty.

With less than a mile left, Newby-Fraser had carefully doled out her energy cards and now held a 1-minute lead. ”I knew if I stayed on my feet, I could still win, although it might be cut down to 10 or 15 seconds,” she recalled.

Then the improbable became the impossible.


“I could feel it coming on, and I think it was the pressure of being in front,” she said. “Everybody was going, ‘Just put one foot in front of the other.’ I thought I would arrive at the finish line with a few seconds in hand. But I was just blowing through the last three or four aid stations, and when I came down the hill on Palani Road, I was weaving all over the road.”

Once she turned left on Kuakini, with a half mile to go, it got worse. “I stopped at one point and said, ‘I can’t finish.’ I was starting to lose consciousness. I know it looked like something out of a movie. I couldn’t believe it. Even now, as I look back on it, I think, Why couldn’t I have kept going another 300 yards? But there was no way.”

After turning right on Hualalai Road, Newby-Fraser said she was not really conscious of Smyers going by. Smyers said she only saw Newby-Fraser when she turned the corner onto Hualalai. When she saw that she was just 50 yards behind, Smyers accelerated as if she had been hit with a jolt of electricity.

As Smyers caught her, Newby-Fraser wobbled into her rival, and the challenger half caught her and prevented her from falling. “I was running very fast as I came up to her,” said Smyers, “and she stopped a couple steps before I got there and kind of fell into me. So I had to catch her and straighten her up. And to be honest I had been in this mode of ‘Go! Go! Go!’ getting 30 seconds on her here and there. So I could not get out of that mode of ‘Run fast and pass her!’”

Even 200 meters later, Smyers looked back to see if Newby-Fraser was coming back at her. “I had no idea she was feeling that bad,” said Smyers. “I knew she was struggling, but I thought for sure she would at least be able to jog it in. So I waited at the finish line for 5 or 10 minutes for her to come across and congratulate her. I didn’t know how bad she was.”

On the same spot a quarter mile from the finish where Julie Moss had fallen in February 1982, Queen Paula sank to the curb near Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel. And Newby-Fraser, who for a decade had been the cool, composed assassin of everyone else’s hopes, wondered aloud, “Am I dying?”

“When I sat down on the curb, I said to myself, ‘Just take another step,’” said Newby-Fraser. “But there was no way. I couldn’t move. I actually thought I had given my life to that race and I was going to die. I felt like I was going into seizure. There was a moment when I thought I was going to be taken away to a hospital, but even if I had to wait until midnight I wanted to finish.”

Huddle ran out to Newby-Fraser. “My gut instinct was, let’s call 911, call a doctor, get her to the hospital. But then I talked to her and I realized she was coherent,” he said. “She just wanted people to get away from her. But she was really dazed and told people to stop touching her and leave. It was like a car crash and everyone wants to see, saying, ‘Jesus is with you.’ Right then she didn’t need Jesus; she needed a doctor and some breathing room. She said, ‘I just wanted to get to the finish line. I may take until midnight and cross with [295-pound former NFL tackle] Darryl [Haley, whom Newby-Fraser had coached that summer], but I will do it on my own.”

Then Huddle got a laugh out of Paula. “I joked, ‘You’ve always dreamed about being able to stop and sit down by the side of the road at an Ironman,’” said Huddle. “She laughed and said, ‘That’s right. I just want to sit down here for a while.’ Then I knew she was okay.”

Twenty minutes later Newby-Fraser gathered herself and walked to a 4th-place finish, offering no resistance when Brazilian Fernanda Keller nipped her at the line for 3rd place. Her sole worry was that her dramatic meltdown didn’t “take away from what an awesome race Karen had.”

Smyers cried when she saw Newby-Fraser walk across the line. “After the joy and the ecstasy, I got a sort of a weird feeling; it was heart-wrenching to see her that broken down. Yet I felt proud for her in how she battled through. I don’t think I would have the men­tal power to endure so much.” Smyers took tremendous satisfaction from the victory nonetheless. “I know how important it was, not only for me but for all future Ironwomen champions to come, that Paula did get beat before she retired. If she had retired undefeated, it would have been hard for anyone who came later to be viewed as a true champion. Now there won’t have to be an asterisk on anyone’s win A.P.—After Paula.”

Afterward Mark Allen said, “Now you can see how daring she was all those years, how close to the edge she raced, how much of herself she gave to the race.” Indeed, the race revealed, perhaps for the first time, the true measure of Newby-Fraser’s intensity and grit. For years Newby-Fraser had been triathlon’s Joe DiMaggio—the clas­sic performer who worked relentlessly in training to make it all look effortless on game day. She was so smart and planned so well, that surely many fans thought it was easy. Other competitors may have become beloved icons for stepping over the line and suffering the con­sequences. But this breakdown was, for Newby-Fraser, an inexplicable exception, and for her fans a telling—and perhaps endearing—one.

Typically, Newby-Fraser would accept the fact of it, but she would not brook praise for it. “It was just idiotic,” she said some years later. “There was no reason to lose the race other than rookie error. It was not a hard day, just stupid. There was nothing courageous about it. There was nothing anxious about it other than the excitement of the race. As a professional I didn’t tend to my nutrition and dehydration, and it was just a very, very stupid lack of concentrating on things I needed to take care of. That is all there was to it. Anybody who reads more into it and sees anything courageous about it is looking at it wrong.”

But in an interview with Crooks three months after the 1995 Ironman, Newby-Fraser opened a window into what might have been going on in her mind, exploring what roots might lie at the bottom of this mystery.

“In retrospect, I think a lot of what happened was mentally moti­vated,” she told Crooks. “On some subconscious level, I think I decided to do something stupid. People got the impression that it was easy for me to come there and win. In some very obnoxious way, I think I was saying, ‘Hey, it’s not so easy.’”


Part 4

After 10 years in the United States, Paula Newby-Fraser became a U.S. citizen in July 1996, which, along with her solid relationship with Huddle, seemed to lend some permanence to her idyllic exis­tence in Encinitas. With a few months’ distance from her disaster, Newby-Fraser regained equilibrium and a renewed mastery over the emotional and mental side of her sport as she approached Ironman Hawaii 1996.

By this time Newby-Fraser had adopted Buddhist principles and gained peace of mind by, as she described it, “living in the moment.” Early in the year she withdrew her declaration of retirement from the sport and vowed to make one more charge on Kona. Nevertheless, she vowed, “I have no expectations” about Hawaii. She didn’t want the pressure of being the favorite, and she didn’t want to feed the expectations to lead. Instead, she said, “I just want to mix it up with the girls.” She had won Kona seven times and did not want to put the weight back on her psyche.

During the year Newby-Fraser won Ironmans in Australia in April and Canada in August despite throwing up and staving off a collapse in Penticton. If she had allowed triathlon success to remain an obsession, she might have fretted over her coming clash with two fast-rising rivals, Karen Smyers and Natascha Badmann. Defending Kona champion Smyers was coming off a rare double, as she had wrapped up 1995 with a win at the ITU short-course World Championship and then, in mid-1996, won the ITU long-course World Championship. She had also become faster in all three sports at the Ironman distance.

Badmann, meanwhile, was a late-blooming Swiss star who had won the prestigious Powerman Zofingen long-distance duathlon world championship with a devastating bike. Badmann and her New Age coach and partner Toni Hasler’s philosophy was tied to nature, and their attitude toward her Kona debut mirrored Newby-Fraser’s in its deflation of expectations. “I just want to finish it and enjoy it,” said Badmann.

Newby-Fraser’s attitude adjustment came to the test midway through the 1996 encounter in Kona.

At the start, Smyers’s 54:11 swim led Newby-Fraser by 79 seconds and Badmann by 6:30. On the bike Smyers took the lead from Wendy Ingraham and held off Newby-Fraser until mile 70 and Badmann until mile 90. At that point, Smyers recalled, “Natascha blew by me like a rocket and looked so fresh I was shocked.”

Newby-Fraser beat Badmann (who clocked a stunning 4:53:47 bike) into T2 by only 18 seconds but had to serve a 3-minute draft­ing penalty. Newby-Fraser didn’t mind. “To be honest, I didn’t want to be leading out on the run,” she said. “I stretched, put my feet up, did an interview.” Newby-Fraser felt even more at ease when she saw Smyers come in fatigued 2.5 minutes later. “I knew Karen had pushed herself and I’d get her on the run.”

At the Hot Corner in downtown Kona, where runners turn right on Palani Road for the steep uphill to the Queen K, Newby-Fraser had regained the lead from the Swiss rookie and was looking relaxed. She was 45 seconds up on Badmann, whom she had passed 15 minutes before at mile 6. And, in the surprise of the day, she was 4 minutes up on Smyers.

Smyers had made up a minute on Badmann in the first 3 miles and said, “I was desperately trying to regain the feeling I had last year, which lasted the entire race.” But after mile 3, when her feet got sluggish and slow, “I knew it wasn’t my day.”

While Smyers came unraveled for good by mile 4 of the run, Badmann’s race was full of surprises, which the newly calm Newby-Fraser handled with equanimity. “I passed Natascha at mile 6 of the run, but coming up on mile 13 she blazed by me going maybe 6:30 pace, some 30 seconds per mile faster,” Newby-Fraser later recalled. “I was surprised because I didn’t know she was closing. I just let her go. I didn’t panic. I didn’t say, ‘I need to go with her.’ It was a big rookie mistake, and I knew it wouldn’t last.”

Sure enough, on the Energy Lab Road the gap slowly shrank. Newby-Fraser caught Badmann in the first mile past the Energy Lab and then played cat-and-mouse with her in a duel. “I pulled in by her side, but she didn’t like that, so she tucked in behind me because it was a bit of a headwind. So I swerved to the middle of the highway, and she swerved with me. That gave me the sense that she was try­ing to hang on to my energy. So I thought, Let’s see how bad it is. I knocked off and started to run an extremely comfortable pace. She still didn’t come up and run with me. She allowed me to lead.”

By then the aid stations started to play a role. “I led through the aid stations and it was difficult for her because by that time most volunteers are looking the other way, and after the first runner goes through it is difficult to get enough water,” said Newby-Fraser. “She wasn’t getting the water she needed. We ran like that for a good two or three miles with all the motorcycles around us.”

As they approached the hill at mile 24, made famous as the spot where Mark Allen broke away from Dave Scott in their epic 1989 race-long duel, Newby-Fraser stepped up the pace and steadily pulled away to the finish. Her time of 9:06:49 was the sixth-fastest for women on the course. Badmann, obviously suffering from lack of water at the aid stations, struggled in 4.5 minutes behind Newby-Fraser despite having been virtually tied with 2 miles to go. Newby-Fraser’s 3:09:45 marathon had closed the deal.

That 1996 race marked the end of Newby-Fraser’s Hawaii wins and presaged the beginning, two years later, of Badmann’s reign as Kona’s queen. It also marked the true winding-down of one of the most impressive records in sports history.

In 1997 Newby-Fraser started the race but, feeling cooked in some of the toughest conditions in memory, dropped out 16 miles into the run. “I was going backward, and after what happened to me in 1995, I knew what lay ahead,” she said. “It would be a death march; I would be entering a place where I would be subjecting myself to serious injury.” Most impressively, Newby-Fraser admit­ted, “I was finally free of the ego or the fears that people would say I was a quitter. I was quite comfortable retiring out on the Queen K because that was the place where I had left so many pieces of myself in the past. I didn’t need that again.”

Now, more than a decade after her long good-bye from a fully dedicated professional triathlon career, Newby-Fraser’s accomplish­ments loom over the sport like a comet whose bright aura cannot be dimmed even by the arrival of the sensational Chrissie Wellington. In a professional career that extended from 1986 to 2004, she won 24 Ironman races; the next closest, her friend Heather Fuhr, won 15. Newby-Fraser took the crown jewel at Ironman Hawaii eight times; the next best—Mark Allen, Dave Scott, and Natascha Badmann—have won six each. In 1988 Newby-Fraser’s 11th over­all finish against the men was labeled “the greatest performance in endurance sports history” by the Los Angeles Times.

On the way she was named “Greatest All Around Female Endurance Athlete in the World” by ABC Sports and the Los Angeles Times and named as one of the top five professional female athletes in the world from 1972 to 1997 by the United States Sports Academy. Sports Illustrated listed her as number 60 among the greatest female athletes of the twentieth century. Until Wellington broke her course record at Kona in 2008, Newby-Fraser held the top six times in the history of Ironman Hawaii. By 1999 she had won 21 of the 26 Ironman races she entered around the globe.

And yet if you simply look at the numbers and the résumé and accepted her apparent invincibility without seeing the human heart and soul behind it, you would be missing the essence of her greatness.

In 1998, when Newby-Fraser crossed the Kona line in 11th place in a humbling 10:03:44, she was bathed in loving applause. “I real­ized today that people cared about me for who I am and did not care where I finished, only that I was OK and happy,” she said.

And just to remind the sport of her prodigious talent, Newby-Fraser had one more impressive result to log at Kona: a 4th-place finish in 2001.


As Bob Babbitt put it so well, Paula Newby-Fraser changed the perception of what a female endurance athlete could accomplish. The 23-year-old from South Africa was the first woman to go under 10 hours with her 9:49:14 winning time at Kona in 1986. She shocked the world of endurance sport when she took 11th overall including the men and smashed the course record by 34 minutes when she won with an amazing 9:01:01 time in 1988. In 1992, she won her 5th Ironman Hawaii with a course record time of 8:55:28 -- a record which stood for 17 years until Chrissie Wellington broke it this October. After a spectacular collapse in the final mile at Kona in 1995, Newby-Fraser came back in 1996 with her smartest race ever to win an unmatched 8th Kona title – two more than Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Natascha Badmann. Her grand total of 24 Ironman victories is nearly twice as many as the 15 wins earned by her closest challenger and good friend Heather Fuhr.

But the happy surprise of Newby-Fraser at age 47 is that she has such a feeling of gratitude and sense of humility about her place in the grand scheme of triathlon – and a profound thankfulness to the pioneer organizers who gave shape to the sport to which she devoted her life.

In Part 1 of a two-part interview, Newby-Fraser recounts the contributions made by fellow inductees Valerie Silk, Jim Curl and Carl Thomas; her early days in the sport; the surprisingly humble beginnings of her second career in race management; and her work today for the World Triathlon Corporation with the charitable Ironman Foundation and helping set up the WTC’s new drug testing program.

Part 2 will cover her rivalry with Erin Baker, her long winning streak, what was behind her shocking collapse in 1995, and her reflections on Chrissie Wellington.

Thoughts on the USAT Hall of Fame

Slowtwitch: What does election to the USAT Hall of Fame mean to you?

Paula: Well I have been inducted into Ironman Hall of Fame and it’s very specific to that genre of racing. So making the Ironman Hall of Fame was a lot more obvious – a no brainer.
Whereas the USAT Hall of Fame seems to me to reflect a much broader stroke of the sport and it encompasses everything that is triathlon. Based on the people inducted so far, it includes people who have greatly influenced the direction of the sport.
When they called me I was extremely surprised. I thought there were so many other people who could be in consideration for it. People I am sure who will ultimately belong.
ST: What do you think about going in with pioneer race organizers like Ironman’s Valerie Silk and USTS co-founders Jim Curl and Carl Thomas?

Paula: It is great to go in with people I have known from the beginning like Jim and Carl and Valerie. To go into the Hall of Fame with them makes us all look back all the way to the beginning of the sport. They were people who influenced and gave professionals the platform we all needed for our careers.

ST: What part did Valerie play in your career? I saw you shed a few quiet tears when they read Valerie’s kind words about you.

Paula: Valerie Silk always looked so poised and she just had such a gentle spirit about her. At the same she guided and directed something so really big you almost wondered how did she do it? Where was that edge to her? I have an edge to myself and that’s what you expect when you encounter people at the helm of such a big enterprise. But I never felt that edge with her. She was always so kind and had so much compassion for all the athletes.

ST: What did you think about Jim Curl and Carl Thomas?

Paula: A lot of people didn’t realize what it is they did and how great it was until you heard Jim Curl speak tonight. He was funny and spoke from the heart and what he said related to every influential race director in the audience. While Jim was speaking, I glanced over at Graham Fraser (the President of Ironman North America, which was fairly recently sold to the World Triathlon Corporation) who is very passionate about his events and their relationship with communities where they are held. I saw that he was nodding his head. That’s because Jim put into words the emotions Graham had as he developed his first race series in Canada and as he developed Ironman events in North America. The ideas that Jim expressed about running triathlons took the business out of it and got to core values that drove it all. We all did it for similar reasons. I believe that it wasn't money that drove me to do my races -- although it was a secondary motivation. It was kind of nice of Jim to strip away all the superficial things.

ST: Carl Thomas was another story – a big picture man who helped found what became the ITU as well as co-creating the USTS. What made him special?

Paula: Carl Thomas had more of a political mind. It took a politician to see how this new sport fit into the greater political landscape of sport. That vision came from his involvement in swimming as a competitor and as an executive with Speedo. Together Jim and Carl were the perfect left brain-right brain mix. You could totally see Carl the chess player who plans three moves ahead of everyonre else. Jim made sure the passion was there and everything was working at ground level.

ST: Was triathlon lucky to have such talented and far seeing pioneers of the sport?

Paula: I agree with you. It is always good to look back and realize how great they were. At the same time, there were some pretty great people along the way who managed to carry on after them. And there are some very visionary people who are part of the sport now. Obviously the landscape has changed tremendously. It becomes politicized and bureaucracies form and growth occurs. The vastness of it all requires a continued excellence. We still have some pretty great new people and we are fortunate they are there. This sport developed out of passion and the people who were there at the get-go had to have that passion. But we were very fortunate to have a few people who were able to take that passion and channel it in constructive ways that allowed it to grow.

The Early Days
ST: How important were the Multisport School of Champions camps ? The personal connection you forged with age groupers seemed to have a Johnny Appleseed effect on the growth of the sport?

Paula: I guess in a way we really started something. The multisport camps were very important in my life. They were very instrumental in making me understand that what I was doing as an athlete was influencing a lot of athletes and inspiring them. Although from my perspective I was learning a lot from the campers themselves and passing on the information I had acquired from competing and from training with some of the greats in our new sport. The things I taught the campers were not drawn from a lot of different sports and mashed together. They were designed to let them know how to put together a program that would prepare them best for this this new exciting sport. I had confidence that what I was passing on to the campers was very raw and very real and effective because I had tried and tested all of those ideas. So we built a tradition of bringing in good athletes and people who knew things about training and racing and putting them in touch with people who were inspired and wanted to get into it. Those camps also instilled the realization that this is a participation sport. And that is what is wonderful about triathlon. No one is elevated above the rest. On a bad day, some of the campers could go riding right by me.

ST: When you came into the sport you soaked up training and racing ideas from a lot of people. It seems as if you have a very analytical mind honed by your schooling in South Africa and that helped you convey those new ideas to your sport. Who influenced you and what was your scientific approach? Did you have a coach?

Paula: That is easy. I never had a coach. I came from South Africa and was very heavily influenced by Dr. Timothy Noakes, a renowned expert in the scientific principles of training. Noakes didn’t assign my training. I started watching the Comrades Marathon in South Africa (a legendary 54-mile point to point road race) and that influenced and inspired me to start running. I knew many of the top runners and Timothy Noakes was very influential with a lot of those runners. He had a very interesting philosophy. I had just started in triathlon and I had a little success. He said ‘Paula always get by with as little training as you possibly can.’ And so I always went with that. Except for 1995.

When I came to the States to become a professional triathlete, really the greatest influences on me were people like Scott Tinley. Just by watching the consistency of what they did. At first I had no consistency. I would wake up any given day and ask whoever was going out for a workout if I could join them. I did whatever I felt like I wanted to do. But really the breakthrough came in 1988.

ST: What happened then to lead you to that amazing 1988 breakthrough when you dropped the Ironman Hawaii course record by 34 minutes and placed 11th overall including the men?

Paula: You must understand when I left my home in South Africa and came over in ‘86 I was successful right away, But in 1987 I had the disappointment of losing Hawaii. It was related to the pressure. Always in the back of my mind I had the idea I would go back to my real life. In 1988, after the disappointment of getting beat in '87, I realized what I lacked was really mental. I led 1987 until almost 23 miles into the marathon, then two people went by me (Erin Baker and Sylviane Puntous). There was no good rhyme or reason why they went by me other than I had no confidence.

Then in 1988 (agent) Murphy Reinschreiber became a part of my life and helped me get some excellent contracts, which gave me some peace of mind and a steady income. But the biggest thing that happened to me in 1988 came about because I made a personal decision that triathlon wasn't just something I’m going to do year-to-year as an interim thing before whatever it is I am really going to do with my life. Instead, I made the commitment in ‘88. I said this is what I am going to do. I went out purchased a heart rate monitor and laid out a training program based on what some other people were doing and what I could glean from experts and the top triathletes.

ST: You didn’t just accept the word of a coach or one authority?

Paula: I asked questions and sifted through the various ideas to decide what worked for me. There was this guy in San Diego by the name of Gary Hooker and he seemed to have the best grasp on successful triathlon training. I also read about Mark Allen’s program, I sifted it through and put some of it on my workouts. Until then I had walked every aid station of the marathon.
ST: At that point, you decided you would approach this sport as a professional?

Paula: I just said 'You know what? From now on I am dedicating myself to professional, scientifically based training. I am also going to approach the public relations side and work for my sponsors in a professional manner.' So I moved from ;'This is what I am doing before what it is I am really going to do,' and threw away my parachute. From that decision came the 30 minutes I took off my time at Ironman Hawaii right there.

ST: Were you thinking about Erin Baker after losing to her in 1987 as you prepared for a rematch in Hawaii?

Paula: I was thinking about her. Absolutely. To a large degree. She influenced my commitment not only to be gracious competitor -- because I thought she was tremendously ungracious. But she also influenced my commitment to sticking with my training plan and decided I would not follow hers or anyone else’s. She certainly worked a lot harder and did a lot more training mileage. But I believed in the success I had with the workouts I had formulated for myself. In the beginning, for a couple of years, I went along with whatever workout was happening on the day.

ST: Did you find a compatible workout partner to help with your breakthrough?

Paula Sara Coope (third at IMH in 1991) and I were workout partners. We were very well matched. She stayed in the winter in San Diego and we did what we set out to do. She was a consistent training partner, somebody who was supportive. Right off the bat in 1988, we went to St. Croix. We didn’t win, but I was second and she was third or fourth. People asked us, ‘What have you girls been doing in San Diego?’ My performance jumped by April and it just kept rolling. That was the year I raced the Bud Light USTS series and I ran some running races. I was training myself to be a runner because I had not been a runner to that point. That was a pivotal year. A mental shift for me. Once I made that shift, I pretty much rolled.
Working Girl

ST: How did Graham Fraser give you a start in race management?

Paula: When I was finished racing, Graham gave Roch Frey and Paul Huddle (Newby-Fraser's long term boyfriend, now husband) the opportunity to race direct events here in California. Starting in 2000, they started as volunteers. One thing about Graham is that he truly believes that to become a good race director and deliver a great product to the athletes, you need to understand every part of a triathlon. Which I did when I started to work for Graham.

ST: How did you react to the switch from being Queen of Kona to doing a lot of menial tasks at first?

Paula: When I started my second career, I had been a pro athlete used to coming in and having things done for me. I didn’t understand the nitty gritty that gave me my platform. I just remember Graham saying he needed someone to handle the job of pro athletes’ liaison for Ironman. The number of athletes was starting to grow and so it was karmic payback for me to have a job handling people just like myself. I got to see what they expected and what they were entitled to and what they complained about

On top of that I was required to work at events. When the race was over, I was handed a trash bag and went into the transition area to pick up after athletes and got to see the garbage that people left behind thinking 'OK, they were entitled to walk away from it. I mne ver realized how much bullshit people leave around and how that is not fair that the race organization takes care of it all.

ST: This sounds like a plot line from The Prince and The Pauper or Undercover Boss. Tell about one of the encounters with folks who didn’t know who you were?

Paula: I also worked in registration and people often didn’t recognize me. I got many snarky remarks that I wasn't fast enough. And I got quite a few sarcastic comments about what I was doing. It absolutely exposed me to the whole gamut of it. At the time I was handling pro athletes, I realized where professional athletes fit into the whole scheme of triathlon. I saw that while pros were wonderful and are great athletes, the very key to it all is the age grouper. I started to realize that pros like myself were not at all more important than the age groupers.

ST: What was the big lesson you learned from this humble beginning?

Paula: Graham taught me that the pros are but one part of the event – one dimension – and you soon realize that a triathlon has many dimensions. After a while, I started to understand it and I started to find ways to make it better. When you make it better and improve the experience for all the athletes, you start to love the process of it. You become enamored with the parallel atmospheres, parallel universes of the event that have nothing to do with what happens in the headlines. All you want is to deliver a great experience for everyone and keep people safe, make sure the aid stations are there and the registration process is happening smoothly, the bike racks and winners medals are there, the timing is in place and working well.
When I started to do a lot of jobs at races, I found at the end of the day I was asking who won the race? I would feel so proud that the race went off well and nobody died, nobody was injured badly, and there were minimal complaints. The sense of gratification of pulling off an Ironman event is great – but equal to and often measured by an exhaustion that is more tiring than doing the race. Then there is a whole other universe of media and sponsors. All those things need to work together but are completely separate.

I worked the registration tent for years at what they call the problem table. I stood there every weekend and was faced with every minute problem. I learned how to handle those problems and change things. Then they put me in the sponsorship area, and I started without knowing anything about race contracts and municipal contracts and sponsorship contracts. At the end, I knew how they worked. Then Graham stepped back and said, 'Take charge,' even though I didn’t know the difference between the two types of barricades.

ST: Graham Fraser didn’t just throw you out there to sink or swim?

Paula: What is great about Graham is that he let me make changes and tweaks. But he always was there. When I came up short and just didn’t know what to do, he would always be there to guide me. It was very flattering to have someone give you that confidence, someone who thinks you’re not just an athlete and that was not all you were. Someone to mentor me and give me an education in a lot of unglamorous work and finally step back and say 'You’re in charge.'

ST: Once you were part of Graham’s organization, I’m guessing you started to mentor some people yourself?

Paula: When (15-time Ironman champion and Newby-Fraser training partner and neighbor) Heather Fuhr started work there, we worked like a seamless team together. She handled the pro athlete liaison work. Then I got excited watching her step up and branch into the VIP thing. It’s been great. Graham started us and then we picked up the jobs.

Without question Graham and the WTC have thrown some pretty monumental tasks at me in the past year and half. I often didn’t even know where to start. But Graham gave me my start and since WTC took over as my boss I have had constant new challenges.

ST: Did Graham help you make the transition in perspective from big contract athlete to a new career?

Paula: That certainly was the other thing Graham taught me -- how to earn your money. When I started, I was the lowest paid person in the company. When I began with Ironman North America, he literally made me start at absolute bottom. Now I know what it’s like to earn every penny I make. Interestingly, now I tell Michellie she has to learn to understand what earning money will be like from now on. I said ‘We made a lot and during those times you were given big lump sums of money – but when you break down what it represented per hour of training and working out, it was really very little per hour for all the swimming, biking and running we did. So you might as well realize the value of earning your pay by the hour.'

ST: Are you doing well now?

Paula: I am very grateful to Graham and to Ironman. Graham has been very good to me and Ben Fertic has been very good to me. I appreciate and I think so does Ben appreciate hard work. I worked with him when he was just creating Ironman Live. I watched how hard he worked and I saw him learn and come up and understand the sport and get to the position where he is now leading a worldwide charge.
Paula Today

ST: What are you doing now?

Paula: I work for the World Triathlon Corporation and my job does not have a title or a formal description. My responsibilities are pretty broad and I am sort of a floater. Generally speaking I am a manager of new development and new projects with Ironman. I work with the Ironman Foundation which was something totally new to me -- to work to create a cohesive involvement with the communities at all Ironman events. Obviously these events are growing. It takes a lot to put on an event in a community. To be sure we are giving back to communities where we host events. This past year I have been very much involved in the community aspect of a lot of events. We have been establishing capital projects in Coeur d’Alene and Lake Placid and Arizona. My job is to assess the needs of each community and try to find something that will make a lasting positive impact in each place and ensure that we become integral to the community.

The WTC New drug testing program

ST: Ben Fertic has you doing some other important work – helping implement the WTC’s expanded drug testing policy. What is new about it?

Paula: I have been helped by WTC President Ben Fertic, who was a primary mover of and motivator behind setting up Ironman with its own anti-doping entity. He had this vision way back in 2005 to create Ironman’s own set of rules and become a signatory to the WADA code. Through his innovation and implementation, WTC established Ironman as the first and only private organization to run a WADA compliant program worldwide. The impetus came from him – I am the now the one who has to organize the nuts and bolts

ST: What has changed in Ironman drug testing?

Paula: Triathletes – pro and age group - will be tested. Before Ben took the initiative on his own, our national federation and the national anti doping agency chose to really exclude Ironman events from their testing program. We are sanctioned by our federation but support from our own federation or any national or international anti-doping organization has been zero the last few years. The impetus from Ironman has developed from Ben. Other than a few championship races Ironman had previously paid for funding of testing. We were getting zero assistance. That has totally changed with the new program launched in September last year.

Most athletes will say that doping control at Ironman races, prior to races and out of competition testing for Ironman pros and age groupers, is now a fully functioning program. I do not think any athlete can show up at any Ironman race in the world any longer -- including places like Lanzarote, Japan, China – and assume they will not be tested.

ST: Who is paying for this?

Paula: The WTC is not being supported in this. The costs are being covered primarily through the new professional membership program. That is what is bearing the brunt of the cost. Ironman itself has previously covered the cost in the USA. At this point in 2010, Ironman has had zero indication that USADA will show up and test. Our program has the support of German anti doping NADA, Australian Drug Free Sport and New Zealand. Once we stepped into the arena, all international agencies serious about anti doping throughout the world have all shown support and cooperation – with the notable exception of USADA.
 

When Paula Newby-Fraser was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame this month, her unmatched numbers were brought out like magical totems, pyramids of success that signaled her unparalleled dominance of the most important event in the sport. Eight Ironman Hawaii wins. Twenty four Ironman victories around the world. Left unmentioned was her pioneering role as a woman garnering sponsorships every bit the equal of the greatest men in the sport. Well recognized in Bob Babbitt’s introduction was her graciousness and her contributions to charity during and after her competitive career.

Perhaps less well known is how Newby-Fraser coped with the tough moments in her career and what lay behind the illusion that her victories came without struggle and doubt. And sadly, Newby-Fraser recounts the mysterious gulf of bad feelings that separated Newby-Fraser and the supremely talented woman who might have been her greatest rival on the Big Island.

A Bitter Rivalry

Slowtwitch: Were you thinking about Erin Baker when you were competing? I looked back on the record and I didn’t find much that you said about her; but she had some sharp criticisms of you. Most of her on-the-record jabs dealt with her perception that you derived unfair advantage by swimming with talented male friends at Ironman Hawaii – completely legal - and her suspicion that you got drafting advantage by riding with them. But there seemed to be something else behind it - a hatred of the apartheid regime in your home country of South Africa.

Paula Newby-Fraser: I paid attention to her for sure. Absolutely. To a large degree. I was incredibly aware of all she accomplished. In my mind she was one of the most gifted athletes in this sport or any other. To this day I know she is amazing and I was very aware of her opinions. I read every single thing she said. She certainly did not keep them to herself and I ended on the butt end of many snarky comments. When I went to Boulder, she would lash out at me periodically. I would not say I took the high road. I would just say I took the low road and moved on along. I just said to myself: ‘OK. Let's see who cashes the check in Kona this year.’

ST: Did she influence you?

Paula: She influenced my commitment to be a gracious competitor, because I thought she was tremendously ungracious. And she also influenced my commitment to sticking with my own training plan and not hers nor anyone else’s. She certainly trained a lot harder and a lot more volume. But I believed in the success I ultimately had with my workouts. But for the first couple of years I went along with whatever.

ST: What do you think now of the criticism you got from Erin? I imagine some of it must have arisen from her political principles. She demonstrated against the South African rugby tour of New Zealand during the era of apartheid. Perhaps she also resented your racing under a Zimbabwe passport at a time when South African athletes were banned from international competition -- was just a way to escape the apartheid boycott? Perhaps she didn’t know you were actually born and lived in Rhodesia – which became Zimbabwe soon thereafter.

Paula: Erin had a very sharp edge. She had a very raw and exposed edge to her to the point of a chip on her shoulder. I feel in many ways most of the years we raced together she dehumanized me. There was really no humanity in her perception of me. To her, I just represented the South African government. She knew I grew up in South Africa and thus I took the brunt of all her political stance against the government. I became the scapegoat and a convenient point for her to unload on someone.
ST: Erin Baker was barred by the U.S. from competing here for years because of her arrest following an anti-apartheid demonstration against the South African rugby team’s tour of New Zealand. Baker, who denied the charge, was convicted in 1981 of throwing an explosive devices, a firecracker I believe, during the protest. Did she do more than make critical remarks against you?

Paula: As I was told, she tried to stop me from competing in one prominent race in the Bahamas – she tried to influence the race director to un-invite me. And she put pressure on Ironman to deny me entry -- which they didn’t do, thankfully. But it was her idea, her stand against apartheid, that led her to consider my presence in triathlon was an endorsement of apartheid. She never asked what my politics were. She had no idea about me personally, my family circumstances, what my family and I stood for.

The greatest insight I got into her attitude to me was the moment I realized just how far she had dehumanized me. One year I beat her in Hawaii –maybe it was 1988. My father had come to watch me race in Kona. I remember Erin was standing somewhere nearby and I said to her “This is my father” and introduced her. She said “I never really thought of you having a family.” All personal feelings she has for her family and her life as an individual human soul, she had no notion of that with me. She was surprised to find me with loving parents.

ST: What was your family’s position on South African apartheid?

Paula: The fact is my mother came from an extraordinarily liberal family. She was an academic and she was a lecturer in sociology and psychology at an all black college and worked in trade unions. She represented an insurgent committee of women for peaceful change in South Africa. We were brought up to look at apartheid as something that was not good at all. I was not at all proud of that aspect of South Africa and we did our part within the country’s politics to show opposition to that in many ways.

But Erin never came and asked me how I felt about these issues. She just operated on the assumption that I was an apartheid supporter. When I grew up in South Africa I was 10 years old and what could I do? By that logic, anyone born in Russia is a communist and should be hated. Her position was: I don't like you and I refuse to humanize you. It was very weird and very uncomfortable and I spent a lot of years in the sport and never had a real conversation with her. I had a few talks with her after she retired, but they were very superficial.

ST: Before you met for the last time at Kona in 1993, you were 2-2 against her on triathlon’s biggest stage. This was the rubber match and a signature moment in your Hawaii career. Did that inspire you to dig a little deeper?

Paula: When the 1993 showdown came down, I was a little ambivalent. I had an injury to my ankle I think came from pushing so hard [and winning three Ironman-distance races in five weeks] in the summer of 1992. After I suffered that ankle injury early in 1993, I had to decide what I could and could not do in training. So I focused on swimming and on improving aerodynamics on the bike because my running was so limited. The turning point going into that event was that I started to run again and knew I was fit. But I read a comment she had made that summer about me. We were both training in Boulder and she knew and could see I was not running much and I was water running. When asked her opinion about that year’s Ironman, she said that I had no chance and would not even finish -- much less finish second.

ST: Bulletin board material eh? But while you were fighting injuries, Erin came into that race about six months after the birth of her first son Miguel and was hit hard on the head during the swim and came out five minutes behind you. She posted her best-ever time at Kona (9:08:04) but finished with her worst-ever run.

Paula: I was certainly surprised that she ran as poorly as she did [Newby-Fraser ran 3:16:24 to break 9 hours and win by 10 minutes; Baker ran 3:19:12 – 15 minutes off her 1990 course record marathon]. She had a shot that year because there was nothing stellar about the way I was running. I just remembered I had a total of 5 weeks of running since May.

ST: You said in one interview that you left pieces of your heart and souls out on the Queen K that year. Perhaps motivated by the person chasing you?

Paula: The run was tough on me. I just remember it was a slow, painful process. So when it was 5 miles to go, I told myself I just had one more 5 mile run to go, one more time around trail around the golf course at home. That race was one of those things I really had to dig. Every Ironman is hard and difficult physically. But this was different to the point where mentally I had to try hard to stay focused. It was rugged.
 
The meltdown of 1995

ST: In your mind, you said you were acting a little resentful subconsciously in 1995 because everyone took your seven wins for granted?

Paula: It was pretty much exactly that. Inside I felt a little tired and I got a little bratty about the overwhelming media attention which took my winning effort for granted. Friends said ‘I don’t even need to wish you good luck. This will be a no brainer.’ Or ‘Oh it won’t be any trouble for you to go and win.’ But the problem going into that race was that I had a streak of wins four years in a row -- from 1991 to 1994 – during which I hadn’t lost an Ironman race anywhere. With that comes high expectation of another routine win. People presumed this was going to be the same old same old. They said ‘You got it. It is easy for you.’

It is NOT easy! Every year I come back I was not satisfied to do things exactly the same again – even though what I was doing was working. .It is human nature to try to do it a little better, to refine it every now and again. Looking back, this was one of those things where you realize what it’s taken and how committed I have been to produce this. But I guess I heard it one too many times from media, parents, sponsors -- this was going to be routine. Somewhere inside I felt ‘Ahh it’s NOT that easy!’ I still was not only incredibly nervous, I had performance anxiety. I do not go out like the cyborg they perceived me to be. I was coming back from injury and when everyone presumed I would win easily again I think I felt it was subconsciously aggravating

ST: So you said ‘Let’s give some of the Mark Allen training volume a go?’ You told Inside Triathlon you upped your run mileage and went on 150-mile bike rides with Allen. That was quite a change from your usual less-is-more philosophy you took from Dr. Timothy Noakes.

Paula: To this day I wish could give an answer why I did it. It’s an old flaw in human nature, We are all inherently flawed in this way: If you have success you want more. And so you think more is better instead of looking back at what had worked for me. I had a style I know what works for me. But all around me everyone was doing something else. I was spending more time in Boulder exposed to the mentality which pretty much meant a lot more volume to training. That less-is-more philosophy gave me my longevity and lack of injury. Except for the 1993 season when I had a chronic injury. In the 1995 season I thought if I was running 60 miles a week and that was good, 100 miles would be better. If riding 200-250 miles a week gave you an undefeated season, more would be even better. That new philosophy for 1995 paid off on the bike. But then it bit me at the end when I collapsed. .

ST: The breakdown you suffered came when you declared this would be your last race at Kona.

Paula: But at a core level, the beginning of 1993 was the beginning of the end for me. To be honest, when I look back, where did it all start unraveling? I managed to pull it all together in 1993 and 1994. But really for me 1993 was the beginning of the end., …

ST: Mark Allen of course did not encourage anyone to follow his training regimen. But I assume you were welcome to come along.

Paula: Mark was not invested into anyone else’s training. That was the beauty of it. In some sense he was an energetic vampire who could maximize his own energy and suck energy from others around him. But he made it clear he was under no obligation to provide energy for others. He was under no obligation to say ‘You really don’t need to be doing this. I do it and I have done it but it probably won’t work for you.’

ST: Perhaps your husband-to-be Paul Huddle, who was Mark Allen’s long-time training partner, could have told you this was a mistake?

Paula: Paul and Mark had a lot of synergy together, but at times Paul slipped over the edge in his circumstances there too. Mark simply did not give away much.

ST: That is the nature of someone committed to dominating the sport. But that wasn’t your mindset?

Paula: I never got that grandiose. One thing I learned early and well is that you are only as good as your last result. People have very short memories and to keep sponsors coming and to secure a living, you need to always be on your game and produce. If you fall down, you need to get up and get going again. Unlike baseball, you cannot get a long term contract where you can live off your accolades. You realize that it is a relatively small niche sport and survival of the fittest requires performances which come due every time out.
 
ST: You mentioned that you were driven by insecurity and even though you had a core belief in yourself. You spent a long time – almost all your career -- to shore up your insecurities.

Paula: Parents and schooling turned me into a total archetypal overachiever – I didn’t think I was good enough. I always felt like I could not live up to my parental influence. I came from totally different culture. Back home in South African schools, every flaw very exposed. You were held to such a high standard. My mother was a very accomplished person and I was always filled with insecurity. If I did well, I thought ‘Shoot, I have to do it again.’ I do not think my success was a fluke. I was not a one off. But a little voice kept insisting that maybe I was. I was afraid, so I stayed focused. It is weird, but I always had this feeling, this little bit of insecurity.

ST: Are you over that fear now?

Paula: Even to this day when I am thrown a big project – I am coming up on a year working for Ironman where I have been thrown all these Foundation 501(c)s and charity organizations and told to guide them to success, When I take over a charity project, it scares me. Then the only thing to do is just come down to the moment and start chipping away.

ST: How did you protect your ego from the extravagant praise that was showered on you?

Paula: When I look back it was probably a lack of self esteem, The way I looked at it, I believed in myself because I believed in myself. But you grow up in a certain way. People saw me as confident. But usually confidence is a shield

ST: After 1995, did you manage to put your bratty subconscious back on the leash?

Paula: After the 1995 Ironman, I sort of walked away from triathlon. I felt so broken by 1995 I didn’t want do the sport any more. On my original journey to the USA in 1985, I spent a year living in London. So in 1995 I turned around and went back to London and I spent a month or so there. I left my life in triathlon alone, packed up and visited friends and immersed myself in the wider world. London is very cosmopolitan city filled with ideas and culture. I spent lot of time at the theater and I got back to my roots and enjoyed the ballet. Every day I got on the subway to go to do this or that. I was a civilian in a place where nobody knew me, no one was interested in triathlon. I went back to being a day in day out civilian of the world for a few months.

ST: What spurred you to return to triathlon?

Paula: Finally I came to the conclusion how lucky I was to be a triathlete. I realized that people paid me to do my sport and that put it all in perspective. I decided I will go back and focus on my sport and I will not lose perspective. I will not turn into a competitive prima donna brat who needs people to pump her up. I knew I needed to integrate triathlon into a complete life and that was the reason I stepped off the grid and became a civilian.

Chrissie Wellington

ST: What do you think when you witness the remarkably swift rise and sheer dominance of Chrissie Wellington?

Paula: First of all, I think Chrissie Wellington is probably the most gifted endurance athlete I've seen. She reminds me in many ways of Erin Baker – physically and mentally strong. She has the gift. Natascha Badmann had a gift, especially on the bike. But Chrissie all around is just amazingly gifted. And it is great she has found an event [the Ironman] at which she can excel. She is probably more physically talented than anyone in her sport.

ST: You saw the results. But what do you think just looking at her?

Paula: But it wasn’t until I saw her in person and really took a look at her legs – she has a weight to strength ratio with incredible numbers—did I fully understand. She has so much power -- and has mental ability as well.

ST: What about her competitive personality?

Paula: But I don’t really know her. She seems a little more high strung than myself and Erin and Natascha. I think she resonates on a higher level. I don't know what happens on a day in and day out basis.

ST: Do you think she made the right decision to coach herself?

Paula: Taking charge of your own coaching can be very empowering. No doubt there is a certain challenge to it. But I think it will only make her better now. She will no longer rely on someone to tell her how good she is. And when you don’t rely on others to prop yourself up and take responsibility for yourself, you can honestly begin to make better choices. If you use your intuition you can make good choices. When I allowed outside influences to take over near the end of my career, things went badly. When I got things back together in 1996 I took charge and took responsibility for myself and I did extraordinarily well. Her challenge now is to avoid the great human flaw: Do not be greedy. Use your talents wisely. You work very hard and get a 10 percent return and so you tend to think: Great! Why not 20 percent? If I can go 8:30 why can’t I got 8:20 and push for that? But if you push for that, you can break yourself. So be intuitive and sky’s the limit.

ST: What did you feel about losing the course records at Roth and Kona?

Paula: People have no ownership of records. I had no ownership of them. Those were times I posted on those particular days. Back then, Hawaii was a really different bike course and run course. It’s all a little different now. The swim is the only leg of the course that is the same. In some respects, parts of it are tougher. But the revelation I had was watching how hard she worked for it the record last year. I saw it on IronmanLive. And it was clear she was going to the well. And I am certain she had to leave a little bit of herself out there to get it done. She didn’t take a moment to enjoy until she crossed the line.

Part of me was gratified by that. I know what she had to do to get it and I hope she realize it’s not that easy. I know it wasn’t that easy for her. A race like that takes a piece of herself out there. As long as she stays connected with that and does not give into thinking it would be easy to get from 8:54 to 8:44 at Kona. That is where it starts going away for you.