September 2008 - Female Hall of Fame

Of all the female icons out there in Hollywood, few inspire confidence and security like Lt Ellen Ripley. She’s attractive, still has her maternal instincts intact and, as the female lead, doesn’t exude the traditional male lead-role characteristics in order to keep her as the film’s protagonist. In the Alien trilogy, she is not afraid to face her opponents head on and leads by example through swift and clear communication to her team. She uses all the traits which could be put to good use by any politician or athlete as the way to run a country, or a race.

My wife, Natalie, has always smirked at my words as being the result of a boy’s club mentality where the boys talk it up at the expense of the women who are not in the room. Men, she suggests, are very confident about their relationships and positions in society when women are not present. To a certain extent, she may have a point. Men may exaggerate the position and importance of men in society espousing a lumberjack mentality when in the company of just the boys. It is no surprise that men would tailor their opinions for women out of reasons of politeness or fear of reprisals. I’ve been guilty of that in the past and I see some of you out there nodding. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as you back up your suppositions with valid argument, reasoning and contemplation for a counter argument, then it doesn’t matter who is in the room. Of course I would never condone the inciting of violence or anything that results in physical harm, but in this day and age of ever increasing political correctness, one needs to stand up and be counted. Sensitivity to others in one’s thoughts and ideas needs to be paramount. Integrity and clarity of purpose, however, need to follow suit. In order to reach a higher level of understanding (ergo enlightenment) between all people, including all genders, we have to get off the fence and push the boundaries.

And that brings me to the case of one woman who has led by example. You may have heard of Paula Newby Fraser aka the Iron Lady aka Queen of Kona. She has won the Hawaii Ironman triathlon world championship, aka the Big Dance, an unprecedented 8 times in between the years of 1986 and 1996. She has always been at the cutting edge of the sport of Ironman and was the first to go under 10 hours and then under 9 hours for the event.

Well this article is not about her. Instead it’s about one of her greatest rivals. While a young Newby Fraser had left her native Zimbabwe for the sunny shores of South Africa where she spent her youth, on the other side of the Southern Hemisphere was a girl, one year older than Newby Fraser, growing up in the land of the long white cloud. The young Kiwi, Erin Baker, was not your average sit-back-and–watch-them-go-by gal. She was a touch more feisty in nature than your average adolescent and at the end of her teens was already a convicted felon. Aside from the odd political prisoner who can note that fact in their CV, there are few athletes who can legitimately attest to their having a criminal record thereby increasing their boasting rights. In the 1981 South African rugby team tour of New Zealand, and one could assume at the same time that Newby Fraser was doing countless laps in her heated swimming pool, Baker was convicted of throwing explosive devices in protest to the South African government’s policy of Apartheid. It took Baker until 1986 to prove to the US that she wasn’t a revolutionary but only a girl with a conscience and highly energised motivation.

Before Baker met and married Scott “The Terminator” Molina (Ironman legend) going on to become one of Christchurch’s most vociferous of councilpersons and super-moms, she was an elite triathlete. One of my favourite quotes is from Baker herself who once described her training methods:
“I was self-trained. I just trained as much as my body would handle, and that was a shit load. I trained and trained, and I trained more if I had time. I never got injured so I would often do more in case somebody else was training while I was resting.”

Here was an outspoken and refreshing talented athlete who didn’t fit the mold of polite and non-confrontational pro. Her competitive spirit and willingness to challenge any inept authority that stood in her way was legendary. Race directors across the globe still shudder at the thought of her gender equality tirades on equal prize money between the sexes. And rightly so.

Here’s a woman who once quipped that her kids should never take up triathlon because the sport is overly severe and indicated that today’s athletes are primadonnas because of their lack of races and their requirements for coaches, managers and trainers. One can only admire her candid perspective on today’s triathletes that there are few professional triathletes of both sexes who can do a 31 minute ten thousand on the track, which appears to her to be the entry level benchmark for elite athletes of either sex. As for her views on Olympics and drugs in the sport, why paraphrase when you can have her own clear words on the issue:
“IOC are the shits, useless corrupt old men. Officials and administrators in general are looking out for themselves, much like politicians. On drugs, I think it should be open 'slather.' Nobody really knows what the next person is taking, there is no level playing field, and I guess if athletes want to pump themselves full of crap then it's their own personal decision.”

In fact a book of Erin Baker quotes would be a best seller. Here’s another favourite:
“But mainly MOST people are LAZY, so they have little ability to succeed because they don't have a clue about hard work, so it's very easy to wear people down.”

Baker (pictured below) has an incredible 104 wins out of 121 triathlons entered. But one of the races which sets her apart in my mind is her coming 2nd to Paula Newby Fraser in Kona, Hawaii, in 1993. Her time of 9:08:04, still one of the fastest times for women, is not what makes that commendable. The fact that she had given birth six weeks prior to the race is what makes it extra special!

People like Erin Baker (and Lt Ellen Ripley) are out there taking action and pushing the limits making certain that people do the right thing. Although a younger version of me thought otherwise, one person can make a difference. And here’s a woman living a life dedicated to hard work and solid ethic. She’s exemplary and her fortitude, past and present, is something to be admired by men and women alike.

Lead by example,

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