Runner's Web

May 13, 2001

When it comes to triathlons, the Hickman twins are double trouble for competitors
Paula (L) and Lynda (R) stretch during a workout in Rockcliffe Park

By Leanne Yohemas-Hayes

OTTAWA (CP) _ Unless it involves swimming, biking or running, it could be tough getting Paula and Lynda Hickman in the same place at the same time.

Both women, identical twins, work full-time as computer engineers and spend their free time training for triathlons and duathlons.

Triathlon is an event with swimming, biking and running components, completed in that order. In a duathlon, there's no swimming involved. Athletes run first, bike second and run once more.

The Hickmans, 50, do both sports very well, and are ranked at the top of their age group nationally and internationally.

``We both like to win,'' said Lynda during a recent noon-hour interview.

Paula, with a giggle, added: ``I love it when I beat Lynda.''

Both concur that when it comes to winning, they tend to take turns at the podium.

At the world duathlon championships in Calais, France, last year, Lynda came second in her 50-54 age group. Paula wasn't too far behind in fifth place. That year Lynda also won nationals for her age group in both duathlon and triathlon. Two years before, Paula scooped the national 45-49 age-group title in triathlons.

``We were going to cross the finish line together but they said only one of us could win,'' said Paula. ``So Lynda let me slip ahead.''

These women strike fear in the toned thighs of those half their age.

Smooth skin and lean bodies would make most people guess the women are at least a decade younger. Only their greying hair and Paula's talk of her 16-year-old son hint otherwise.
Even as youngsters these women had a competitive streak. Lynda recalls a time when the girls were 13 and competing as a team in a horse competition called Gretna Green. Riders had to complete one lap and then pick up their partner.

Lynda went first. She got so caught up in the race that Paula didn't have a chance to completely mount the horse. Before she could settle herself behind her sister, Lynda got the horse to gallop. Then Lynda carried her sister around the course _ in a headlock.

``But, see, we came in second,'' Lynda said proudly.

Meeting the women years later, Erin Downs, 27, said their competitiveness, sometimes directed at each other, is healthy.

``It's a bit of a sibling rivalry approach to sport,'' she said. ``But at the same time they both have a passion for the sport.''

The twins say they'd be lost without goals.

``I'm not the sort of person who likes to come home from work and just watch TV,'' said Lynda.

Paula said training helped her lick bouts of depression and an addiction to anti-depressants that plagued her in her 20s.

At that time, in the mid-1970s, she was one of few women in engineering school.

``I found it very tough,'' she said. ``I went from a place with a lot of friends to one where I was the only girl.''

She joined a running club to meet people. She soon discovered she did well at running races. She was the second woman in her first half marathon, a 21-kilometre race.

Lynda, who began running at the same time, followed her sister's lead and also began racing.

``Paula kept getting all these trophies,'' said Lynda. ``So I thought, if she could do it, so could I.''

For different reasons they both moved to Ottawa in the 1980s from England. Paula did her first triathlon when she was 39. Lynda was 43. Both got hooked on racing triathlons and duathlons because they were forced to take time off of running because of injuries. So they tried swimming and cycling.

``I found with cross-training, I didn't get so injured,'' said Paula.

Although both could run quite well, it wasn't easy to leap into triathlons. Both had to learn how to swim from scratch. Paula had some unique bike problems. For the longest time she said she wouldn't shift gears _ she was too afraid to take her hands off the handlebars.

She also didn't know how to change a flat tire, and recalls that she once rode her bike _ flat and all _ for an hour on her indoor trainer. Paula said she smelled burning rubber the entire time. When she got off her bike, the floor was covered in bits of rubber. She made a point of learning how to change a flat tire.

Although Lynda keeps her hair long while Paula has recently chopped hers off, people have a hard time telling them apart during races.

Eventually, their competitors realize they're racing twins. And by that time, racers also realize they could be in for trouble. Make that double trouble.

This article was first published by the Canadian Press in April 2001.

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