Kathryn Bertine: As Good as Gold
Kathryn Bertine was living her dream as a professional triathlete and a writer, yet also living the reality of working less-pleasant part-time jobs to survive. After she broke off her engagement and moved from Colorado to New York, with only $200 in her checking account, it seemed her athletic dreams would wither and die. Then she received an amazing offer from some editors at ESPN: she would be given two years to make the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in any sport and by any means necessary and write about the process.
Kathryn, a former professional ice skater turned triathlete possesses the athleticism that would make the whole crazy endeavor possible. She made her list of sports in which she would have even a tiny chance of competing in and goes for it with pluck and a sense of humor. Adapting her athletic abilities which have been finessed for Ironman triathlons, Kathryn visits one “baptism-by-fire” elite athletic camp after another. She takes on modern penthathlon, team handball, track cycling, rowing, open water swimming, race walking, cycling, and just for the heck of it, luge in her quest to make the Olympics. When she finally decides to go for it in cycling, she moves from Category 4 (Beginner) to a Cat 2 qualifying for a chance to compete in the US national championships within a few short months.
Kathryn’s book As Good As Gold: 1 Woman, 9 Sports, 10 Countries and a 2-Year Quest to Make The Summer Olympics documents the whole journey with Bertine’s witty style. While one can’t help but be impressed by her determination and drive as she faces one challenge after another in her quest, it is her sense of humor that makes the book such a delightful read. I have read many inspiring stories of athletes but this one stands out. While she may not have the stratospherically amazing talents that would make her dominate a sport like Lance Armstrong or one of the Williams sisters, Kathryn has just enough athletic abilities to make it “doable” and a never-give-up mental fortitude. You find yourself cheering her on as her story progresses and yet also feel inspired to push yourself even harder during your next workout. Her very-real story has plenty of laugh-out loud moments and it is interspersed with “water breaks” which are Bertine’s own take on how sports bras have regressed, the post-race ‘hydration game’ she plays, amusing fan mail and more. I loved the book—and Indy Filmmakers, if you’re listening; this would make a great movie!! Heaven knows we could use a non-sappy movie about a female athlete—and bonus!—there are some great comedic moments here! (Plus, I asked and yup, she has a screenplay written and ready to go!)
An Interview with Kathryn Bertine
Did you discover that there really is no easy sport?
“Every sport is exceedingly difficult. Some of these sports that we might not think of as top notch can be incredibly difficult and they can have a following in various countries in which they are popular. If we are watching them and they seem easy, it’s because they are that skilled that they make them appear easy.”
Tell me about the title of your book.
“The title for my book is about the journey itself is really “as good as gold.” It’s the ability to try and to have the guts to go for it and never have to say when I look back on my life, “What if?” That is really the cord that I hope will strike with people. Whether you win or lose, you empty it out there on the field and you give it your best shot.”
There are many athletes trying to pursue their sport without a lot of support. The perception is that is a hard life, a tough existence.
“It’s hard, but it’s still a choice. If they truly love sports then it is worth it. Sure, it’s a tough life but we choose our path and our existence. This is the kind of tough lifestyle that I choose to live. I don’t believe it is a sacrifice to pursue a sport. You want to go for it; it’s your entire journey. Love it or leave it. I don’t buy into the sacrificial cliché of ‘They are toiling in obscurity.’ There is so much of a reward for actually doing something with your life. If they look at it from that perspective, they are going to be happy. But if they are only looking at with the view that the end result is all that will justify it, they might be disappointed.”
The Tour de France, a men’s cycling race gets so much coverage and women’s cycling races get no TV coverage. You pointed out in your book that the New York Times has an average of just over 20 articles on men’s sports while having less than 2 articles per day on women’s sports and USA Today’s ratio is just slightly better. How can this lopsidedness change?
“We need more media coverage, more TV coverage. With women’s sports—it’s not the athlete, it’s not the sport that needs to change, it’s the coverage. Women have been competing in cycling for years and they are terrific athletes competing just for the love of the sport. They are striving to do well, to compete well and just not getting the coverage. People can change this by writing to their media outlets or to their websites saying, ‘Hey, I want more coverage of this (women’s sports)!’ The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak. I think the assessment that men will only follow men’s sports is a very antiquated view. After all, women follow football and basketball because it is in the media. It has everything to do with exposure and how that exposure is done.”
What’s the state of women’s professional cycling teams in the US? What are the major women’s road cycling teams now?
“The top women’s road cycling teams are: Colavita/Baci, Peanut Butter & Company, Webcor, Team Vera Bradley and Tibco. Those riders don’t make anywhere near what the male riders make. They participate in many of the same races, same everything, but cycling is one of those sports that is so far behind the 8-ball when it comes to equality. The more publicity we can get the better. Some of these women work so hard, often having to work multiple part-time jobs, whereas their male counterpart don’t have to because they are fully funded by their team. The positive part is that it is getting better.”
I hear that you are doing what you can to help the cycling federation of St. Kitts & Nevis. How is that going?
”I love being down there to help with the kids. We’ve got a few up and coming juniors which is so wonderful. To see that we are starting to get cycling going at the grassroots level is amzing. One of the things that St. Kitts and Nevis is doing right is starting kids at a young age. We don’t do that as often in sports in the U.S. Here it’s really a focus on team sports and the individual sports come much later. As they start to thrive, I want to help the St. Kitts & Nevis cyclists get all the publicity and coverage they deserve.”
“I am racing on an elite team based out of Tucson called TriSports Cycling. I am trying to find sponsorship for 2011 season. Next month I will be racing for St. Kitts & Nevis at the World Championship next month in Australia. …And I am getting married in November!”
Contest & Give-away!
Kathryn is offering a signed copy of her book As Good As Gold as a giveaway for Cycle & Style readers. Make a comment here and you will be entered in a random drawing to win the signed copy!
(I promise–you’ll love the book!) Contest limited to residents US & Canada. Contest open 8/20/10 through 9/17/10.