Chrissie Wellington is one fierce bundle of awesome. If you've never heard of her--and if you're not obsessed by triathlons or you don't know someone obsessed by triathlons, you may well not have--she is one of the dominant triathletes racing today.
Chrissie's specialty is the Ironman distance--a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a marathon--a 26.2 mile run. This past weekend she raced Ironman South Africa. She won, naturally, just as she's won every single other Ironman she's raced since debuting at Kona in Hawaii in 2007.
And not only did she win, she broke the women's world record--set by her, naturally, last November in Arizona--finishing in 8:33:57. If she'd been racing the same race back in 2007, she would have won overall that year with that time, beating both the men and the women. As it was, she had the fastest marathon time of the day--men's or women's. And she broke the course's bike record. Just another day at the races.
To give her performance a little more context--if you're not already adequately impressed--debuting at Kona is like debuting at Carnegie Hall. To come out of nowhere and win triathlon's top race? Unheard of. And then she did it again in 2008 and 2009--factoring in a dramatic flat tire change during the 2008 race. Good grief.
What's so fabulous about Chrissie though is not just her dominance, which speaks for itself, but also the spirit she brings to the course. She has an ever-ready 10,000 watt smile, a quick, open humility, an ability to laugh at herself and a strong sense of integrity--she's an outspoken proponent of drug testing, publishing her own test results on her web site in an effort to keep triathlon free of the doping that has plagued other endurance sports, especially cycling.
Chrissie's high-octane athletic achievement is allowing many other athletes to reframe their sense of what is possible in their own careers--pro and amateur, female and male, inside and outside of triathlon. That she accomplishes it with winning grace and panache only makes her that much more compelling and inspiring a personality.
Chrissie, who is 34, didn't start racing triathlons until she was in her 20's. Prior to turning pro she was a British civil servant, and she spent 16 months working with an NGO in Nepal--Rural Reconstruction Nepal. You can read about her time and work in Nepal here. Watch her emotion-laden third and record-breaking 2009 win in Kona here. A terrific January interview with her in the UK's Guardian is here. And you can follow her on Twitter @chrissiesmiles.
Update: On October 8, 2011 in Kona, Hawaii Chrissie swam, rode and ran her way to a fourth Ironman title, following a nasty bike crash while training two weeks prior to the race. You can read her thoughts on using the principles of The Art of War to overcome the physical and mental challenges posed by the crash here.