Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: Catching up with Rinnie

Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Matthew Dale

There are perks to being an Ironman world champion. Take shopping. Mirinda Carfrae was cruising New York’s Fifth Avenue in December with her boyfriend, fellow pro triathlete Tim O’Donnell.

And what store were they browsing when Carfrae was approached by a stranger?

“Versace,” says Carfrae with more than a hint of doubt.

Then the memory unfolds and it hits her.

Mirinda Carfrae (Photo courtesy of Ironman)

“No,” Carfrae confesses, “it was Armani.”

Design labels aside, this guy comes up and says, “Excuse me, are you Mirinda Carfrae?”

To which the playful Aussie replied, “Yeah, have I done something wrong?”

Turns out the guy follows Carfrae on Twitter, read where she’d be in the Big Apple for a couple days and told her, “It’s just exciting to run into you in a massive city like New York.”

“All of a sudden,” says Carfrae of new newfound fame, “I’m not under the radar anymore.”

Indeed, the 5-foot-3 missile brought a little attention to herself by winning the Ford Ironman World Championship last October.

Last weekend in San Diego at the Endurance LIVE celebration, where athletes ranging from American marathon star Ryan Hall to cycling guru Chris Carmichael to men’s Ironman Hawaii champ Chris McCormack were honored, there was a buzz surrounding Carfrae.

At Saturday’s downtown convention center expo, a standing-room-only crowd showed up for a Q&A featuring Carfrae and three other female endurance athletes.

And Sunday, when the couch potato set were stuck to the sofa watching the NFC and AFC Championship Games to determine who’d line up in the Super Bowl, Carfrae and Michael Raelert attracted more than 300 Triathlon Club of San Diego members for another Q&A.

“The thing I like about Mirinda is she’s somebody people can relate to,” says Competitor Magazine editor Bob Babbitt. “She looks like the girl next door. She’s short, she’s cute. She’s a very special gal. She’s always upbeat, she’s always happy.”

And why shouldn’t Carfrae be wearing a smile brighter than the New York skyline? Take a peek back at her 2010 season. Ironman Hawaii champ. Titles at the 70.3 distance at Oceanside, Vineman, Calgary and Muskoka. In all, six firsts, a second, a third and a dnf at St. Croix due to illness.

“It’s funny,” Carfrae says. “I look back and kind of forget how great 2010 was. It was a picture-perfect year, topped by Kona.”

Much has been made of Carfrae’s basketball background, how she pushed herself hard but was limited by that 5-3 stature. Carfrae’s work ethic goes back much further than when she was dribbling a basketball up the court.

It extends to her childhood, being one of six children working on a farm outside Brisbane.

“That’s why my parents had so many kids,” she jokes. “It was cheap labor.”

The family raised lettuce, then passion fruit. From 6 through 9, Carfrae folded cartons for the crops. Later, she packed lettuce.

“That’s just how it goes,” she says. “In a farming family, everyone pitches in. You just do what needs to get done. It’s not even a question.”

The work ethic transferred to athletics.

“I think that’s a fair statement,” Carfrae says. “We grew up with chores and responsibilities as children. That transfers over as an adult. If you want to do something, you need to do the work. Then you see the results and reap the benefits.”

Think back to last October, before Chrissie Wellington turned up ill on the morning of the Ford Ironman World Championship. The assumption was that Wellington would waltz to her fourth straight Kona victory. Now, more than eight months before the Ford Ironman World Championship, the women’s storyline is already building like a swell on the horizon.

Can Chrissie reclaim her crown? Can Rinny ride strong enough to run Wellington down? Could Carfrae possibly have a sub-2:50 marathon in those legs?

At the Endurance LIVE expo, after Wellington and Carfrae
participated in a session, they stepped backstage and playfully pretended to pose as boxers, ready to duke it out.

“The cool part is, both of them are looking forward to it,” Babbitt says. “You can tell there’s immense respect for one another. But I’m sure when Chrissie was watching that video of Mirinda winning Ironman (at the awards dinner), you know it was eating at her stomach.”

Regarding Wellington’s absence last October, Carfrae says, “I absolutely don’t want to win the race without the best athletes on the starting line. No doubt Chrissie’s itching to earn her title again in 2011. ”

Wellington, who was honored for her world record 8:19:13 performance last year in Germany, talked not about setting records, but about inspiring girls. She wants eight-year-olds to dream about what’s possible, then go out and one day shatter records.

This much is certain about the near future. Where once people hoped someone could challenge Wellington, now there’s an expectation that Wellington will at least be pushed.

“In past years,” says Carfrae, “Chrissie got to the front on the bike and never looked back. I’m hoping that’s going to change in the next couple of years. With myself, Caroline Steffen (second at Kona) and Julie Dibens (third last October), maybe we’ll all have something to say on race day.”

Discipline, of course, is one of the trademarks of an Ironman world champion. Do the training. Eat right. Get enough sleep. Know when to say no to friends, family and outsiders.

Carfrae has demonstrated remarkable discipline since the laurel wreath was placed atop her head. She once said she’d treat herself to an Audi TT if she won Ironman Hawaii, but she declined.

“I just didn’t know if I should spend the money,” she says.

There was talk about buying a house along Australia’s Sunshine Coast. But with the Australian dollar struggling, she passed.

Still, it’s unhealthy to put in all that work and not reward yourself. So alas, Carfrae didn’t completely waste her time strolling along Fifth Avenue during the holiday season.

“I spent a few thousand dollars on random items I didn’t really need,” says Carfrae. “I figured I deserved it.”

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