THE SECOND PART OF OUR INTERVIEW WITH CHAMPION ATHENA (AND CHAMPION PERSON), LESLIE BATTLE.
To read up on our first piece on Leslie, click here.
Tell us about your most memorable events (continued).
The other memorable event was the Cox Marathon in Providence, Rhode Island. I’m not a marathoner. I don’t know why I did this. I remember, originally, when coming back from AGN in Wisconsin, I got bumped on the plane, so I had a free ticket. I wanted to go somewhere without the expense of the bike and loved the medal for the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati Ohio, so I signed up.
I got food poisoning mid race and missed the BQ by 3 minutes and kinda felt like I’d failed, but it wasn’t a public goal, so I was still proud.
I never planned on doing another marathon, but signed up for The Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler to keep training through the winter. When that was over Coach Amy suggested I just do a spring marathon. Never one to say no to a race I was all in. So we kept training. Again, I just wanted to finish the event well. BQ was not the goal, publicly.
Again, those Athena insecurities kicked in… 165+ pound female athletes DON’T BQ… I was told as a young person a lot of horrible things. Opportunities that would be denied to me “because I was fat.” Like: “You will NEVER get into Wellesley because you’re fat.” I graduated with a dual degree in 1990. And “You will NEVER be able to work at Lord & Taylor (an upscale retailer I DID work for for a few months while studying for the bar) because you’re fat.” And “They might be your friends, but guys will NEVER, EVER date you because you’re fat and black.” Well, I’m still single and happily not looking, so there’s that.These are the demons we Athenas carry to the line every, single, race.
“My mission has long been to elevate the esteem of Athena athletes because I remember how isolated I felt at that first half marathon where, as I made my way at the back I heard a child ask his dad: “Daddy, is she in the race?” It may not have been apparent by my napsack and umbrella, but I was definitely in the race, the race of my life.”
So, miles 0 through 15 were uneventful, until I saw my training partner and her daughters with signs… Mile 16 was one of my fastest at 8:06, thanks Mona Mello. And it was then I realized I was gonna finish… Ten miles could be an hour and a half! But it took a lot of discipline that Coach Amy and I had worked on to stick to the plan and not push the pace, yet. I started getting emotional as we turned into Gano Street 2.5 miles out. I was holding back tears as I checked my pace against the Garmin and that elusive BQ time…
I had 22 minutes to go 2 miles and was moving between 9 and 9:30s…
By the time I reached downtown I was cheering for myself audibly, saying “Yes!” and other unnamed expletives… I shouted and pumped my fist all the way across the line realizing that ‘The Fat Girl’ – the one with all the emotional baggage, just qualified for one of the World’s most prestigious athletic events: The Boston Marathon!
Honestly, neither my first Ironman, nor competing at ITU World’s were either as thrilling… You have to have lived it to get it… 283 races and 4880 race miles later, I felt like an athlete, like I belonged. I cried.
Q. How has it been being a minority in multisport?
Well, in New England, Rhode Island, there are very few of us who I know… Maybe 5 or 6 and most are relatively new to multisport. It is still quite a fringe sport, you and I are too close to see that not everyone has 80% of their friends who have completed a triathlon.
I’m really encouraged that there are more of us performing well in triathlon, like Max Fennell, a rising pro, and Tiencia James a rockstar age grouper from Atlanta. It can only help build a strong pool of talent from which to build Team USA. I was thrilled there were at least 10 of us on Team USA in Adelaide.
There are also great resources now that were not available when I started, like Tony Brown’s group Black Triathletes Association, which has a Facebook group with roughly 2500 members.
Q. Are you currently sponsored by any brands?
Fuel Belt has been great to me since my crash in 2014. Not only was I invited to represent on the Fuel Belt Race Team, but then President, Vinu Malik has given me a bunch of gear and nutrition samples, which I have used to pay it forward to my fellow Athena athletes.
I also met George Pierce of Pierce Footwear by Seven Dynamics Inc. while at ITU World’s in Australia. He is a legendary competitor on the circuit who has designed and developed a patented quick release lightweight racing flat especially for triathletes. I’m proud to represent as an an Elite Team Member for Pierce Footwear.
I am also thrilled to be supported by Oofos Recovery Footwear, and have been benefitting from the shoes for years.
And I have recently signed on as a sponsored member of Team T2T associated with athletic apparel retailer Thick-2-Thin to disrupt preconceived stereotypes of what female athleticism looks like.
“I learn things every day. Every race. My number one directive: “Run like you’re in 4th place!” Also, you will reach your goals. It may not happen today, and it may not happen tomorrow, but it WILL happen.”
Q. The numbers in your Athena Triathletes facebook group grows daily – what do you think this says about the health of the Athena division?
What started out as my attempt to get to know local Athena athletes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and build a local support and training network has grown to include athletes from as far away as England, Germany, Australia, and Canada. I even got to meet some at ITU Duathlon Worlds in Adelaide AUS.
I am always excited to hear of the athletes’ racing adventures, and I have learned so much from the group’s training questions and challenges. I have also had the privilege of making lifelong friends that I met through the group. It is always thrilling for me to meet others face to face and I LOVE it when the athletes meet one another, because that was my initial mission: to connect with athletes who were like me and to do what I could so no Athena would feel as alone as I did in my first half marathon.
We welcome new members every day and it excites me that more and more are wearing the Athena badge with pride and not as a scarlet letter.
What I would LOVE to hear more of is Athena athletes embracing their achievements by not minimizing an earned podium spot by saying it was “only” an Athena win or there were “only” three athletes registered. Own it!Say: I EARNED SECOND! I EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATIONS! I PERFORMED TO THE PEAK OF MY TRAINING! Don’t tarnish your performance, as women so often do. Give yourself permission to brag; you earned it!
Plus, with the growing numbers of Athena athletes, racing against only a few others may soon be the exception, not the rule.