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Posted: August 2, 2005

Triathlon: Heather Fuhr –More than a Pretty Face

By Lynne Bermel

Heather winning the 2005 Lake Placid Ironman.
Photo - Steve Bower

Think of an Ironman athlete and you picture a sculpted body, shaved legs, pulsing veins and a face that shows the effects of endless training in the harsh elements.

And when you imagine anyone winning an Ironman, you think survival, not glamour.

You certainly don’t expect someone to cross the tape looking fresh and energetic. Not after what they’ve just put their body through.

Ah, but there’s something about Heather.

She’s been a top level Ironman pro from the day she broke onto the scene 15 years ago. Yet, to have seen her flash her girlish grin as she crossed the tape to win the Ford Lake Placid Ironman this year for a record 5th time, you’d think she’d just been out for a light day’s training run.

Yet she had just punished herself the previous 9 hours and 45 minutes, the time it took her to beat a stellar women’s field and notch the 14th Ironman victory of her career, making her the second most winning Ironman triathlete in history.

She is human, though. After all, it took her at least, oh say, 2 or 3 minutes to recover in the media tent before she was ready to talk to the reporters.
Heather on the cover of Triathlete Magazine Heather on the cover of Competitor Magazine

Heather has always looked like the girl next door. That’s probably why she’s graced the covers of several multisport magazines on more than one occasion. Remember that funky shot of her with fellow glam girls Lori Bowden and Wendy Ingraham dressed up as the “Spice Girls” or the one of her running down a beach in San Diego in a hot pink bathing suit?

Well, Heather looks better than ever these days, thanks to her new pearly whites courtesy of sponsor, cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Mary Viechnicki. We were seeing that smile a lot at the finish line in Lake Placid.

“Every time that I get to win is a little more special than previously. You just never know if it’s going to happen again. Of course the first one is incredible and they’re all incredible but it gets a little harder each time,” she said.

Heather’s soft looks and gentle disposition belie one of the fiercest competitors in the sport. Let’s face it, to win 14 Ironmans, you can’t be afraid of pain. In fact, you have to embrace it. And now that she’s won so many, she’s got a bulls-eye on her back with a fresh slate of women gunning for her year after year.

“You know what?” she says, “I don’t feel any pressure and I think that’s a nice thing. You go into the race because you enjoy doing them, but without the pressure of feeling like you have to win. You know you just go into the race just feeling like you do what you can do. If you win it’s great and if you don’t, you don’t get too worried about it.”

You have to be at a different level to think this way.

It helps that the strongest weapon in her arsenal is running, usually where an Ironman is won, or lost. Unless you’re a Lisa Bentley or a Lori Bowden, if you don’t come off the bike with more than a double digit advantage, you might as well say “Hasta La Vista Baby” to any chance of winning if Heather is in the race. Her 2:51 marathon split en route to winning the 1998 Ironman Switzerland is still the second fastest all-time Ironman run for a woman, ever.

So how does she stay motivated after all these years?

“It’s a lifestyle and I really love the lifestyle. That just keeps me going. At this point in my career, I plan to keep competing at this level until my results are no longer respectable.”

One could argue Heather doesn’t need it but if there’s an additional motive behind her recent success, it’s the support of Tri Dubai, her latest sponsor, who pours money into local charities if one of their athletes win the race. (And there’s a good chance a lot of local charities will be seeing green these days with Ironman standouts like Simon Lessing, Peter Ried, Cameron Brown and Kate Major on the Team’s roster). For her effort in Placid, Heather helped out the Lake Placid Child Care Committee.

What’s next for her? “I get to recover after Placid a bit and then gear up for Hawaii. Hopefully I’ll have a great race there again. I’ll give it my best shot.”

Best of luck, Heather!

Heather with another legend, Paula Newby-Fraser and hubby Roch Frey at the finish line
Photo - Steve Bower

Lynne Bermel, a former World-ranked Ironman competitor, is a Marketing and PR consultant living in Ottawa. You can reach her at lynnebermel@rogers.com.


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