Erin Baker - Female Hall of Fame

"Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult". - Charlotte Whitton
Sigourney Weaver as Lt Ripley
Of all the Hollywood female icons out there, few inspire confidence and security like Lt Ellen Ripley. She’s attractive, has her maternal instincts intact and, as the female lead, doesn’t exude the traditional male lead-role characteristics in order to solidify herself as the movie's protagonist. In the Alien trilogy, she leads by example through swift and clear communication and confronts her opponents head on. Her traits could be put to good use by any politician or athlete as the way to run a country, or a race.

And that brings me to the case of one woman who has led by example. 
Paula Newby-Fraser - victorious again
Paula Newby-Fraser aka the Iron Lady aka Queen of Kona won the Hawaii Ironman triathlon world championship between 1986 and 1996 an unprecedented 8 times. She was the cutting edge of the sport of Ironman and was the first woman to go under 10 hours and then under 9 hours for the event.

Well this piece is not about her. 

Instead it’s about one of her greatest rivals. 

While Newby-Fraser was leaving her native Zimbabwe for the sunny shores of South Africa to expend her youth, on the other side of the Southern Hemisphere was a girl, one year older than Newby-Fraser, growing up under the gaze of the long white cloud. The young Kiwi, Erin Baker, was not your average teenager. She was a touch more feisty in nature and at the end of her teens had already been arrested for political activism. Few can add that to their CVs. 

Erin Baker crushing it
During 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 arrested for throwing a firecracker in protest to the South African government’s policy of Apartheid. It took Baker until 1986 to convince the visa office that she wasn’t a revolutionary as she launched her professional triathlon career in the US.

Baker would have an exceptional triathlon career going on to marry Scott “The Terminator” Molina (Ironman legend - love your work Scott!) and becoming one of Christchurch’s most vociferous councilpersons and super-moms. What interests me about Erin was not her sporting prowess, no matter how remarkable, but the various quotes accredited to her. One of my favourites was on 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.”
Not quite the mold of the polite and non-confrontational pro. Her competitive spirit and willingness to challenge any inept authority that stood in the way was legendary. Race directors across the globe still shudder at the thought of her gender equality tirades on equal prize money for the sexes. 
RobbyRicc and Erin - superdad and supermom
Baker once quipped that her kids should never take up triathlon because the sport is overly severe and suggested that today’s athletes are primadonnas lacking in race experience and over-reliance on coaches, managers and trainers. In Baker's view, a 31-minute 10k on the track should be the entry level benchmark for elite athletes of either sex. As for her views on Olympics and drugs in the sport, there's no need to paraphrase when her own words were clear 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 good one:
“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 had an incredible 104 wins out of 121 triathlons entered. But, in my mind, what sets her apart is her 2nd place to Newby Fraser in the 1996 Kona world championship race. Her time of 9:08:04, still one of the fastest times for women, is not what makes that commendable, but rather that she had given birth six weeks prior to the race.

People like Erin Baker (and Lt Ellen Ripley) are out there taking action and pushing the limits making certain that people work hard and do the right thing. Erin reminds me that one person can make a difference. 

To celebrate Erin, and the fact that I bumped into her and Scott on our way to the Comrades marathon, let's make a toast to all women living a life dedicated to hard work, solid ethic and taking the road less travelled. Their exemplary characters, fortitude, and ability to teach us old dogs new tricks, are to be admired. Here here!
A Molina & Baker sandwich
with me as the filling.
Was it destiny that I met them wearing
my coolest Ironman shirt?
Lead by example, 

PS I wrote this piece in September 2008. I took meeting Erin and Scott at the Durban airport for the 2014 Comrades as a sign that it should be revisited and updated. 

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