It was the inaugural Vietnam 70.3.
The morning before the race, I sat at a breakfast table with Ironman CEO, Andrew Messick. As a lifelong student of international affairs, I took the opportunity to ask him about the challenges Ironman (and Sunrise Events) faced in pulling off an event of this caliber in Vietnam, a country in early stages of economic development, under single-party Communist rule, and with only the tiniest of triathlon communities. When he noticed my questions were rooted in something deeper than small talk, the conversation shifted to my education and then to my career in strategy consulting.
One by one, the others moved on with their mornings, until only Mr. Messick and I remained in conversation. When we eventually got up from the table, it was his turn to ask a question. “Why do you race pro?”
As I gathered my thoughts, Mr. Messick tried to answer the question for me, “it’s for the free registration, right?”
(As a side note, registration for pros is not free. Qualifying athletes pay a fee of $800 that covers registration for WTC events for the calendar year. And there are no refunds or transfers, even for injury.)
Until his last comment, I had really enjoyed my conversation with Mr. Messick. He has received a lot of negative press for perpetuating gender inequality in sport, but I had pushed that aside and found common ground elsewhere.
I told Mr. Messick that my initial voyage into triathlon had been motivated by a desire to raise awareness for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (the MMRF). I explained that the MMRF’s tireless work to bring blood cancer treatments to market had extended my father’s life and that I use triathlon as a vehicle for giving back to the organization that has given my family so much. My hope in racing specifically as a pro though, I explained to Mr. Messick, is to shine a brighter spotlight on the MMRF than I could do as an amateur, to further elevate the foundation’s status, and to give more hope to more cancer fighters.
(If you know the basics of the Ironman gender equality debate, move on to the next paragraph. If you are interested in learning more about WTC’s institutionalized discrimination of female professional athletes and the context in which I viewed Mr. Messick’s comment, here are a few pieces to get you started: 1) Interview with Chrissie Wellington, Ironman legend; 2) Article from Julia Polloreno, Editor of Triathlete Magazine; and 3) Tri Equal’s homepage.)
I am not sure why he asked or what he’ll do with the information or if he’ll remember our conversation at all, but I stopped there. There were so many more reasons, but this wasn’t the venue for a conversation of such magnitude.
Mr. Messick would have had to come with me the following week on my bike trip through rural Vietnam to understand why I race as a pro.
For the same reasons I climbed Half Dome with my dad on my 16th birthday, and taught at a high school that serves five Indian reservations, and lived in a rural Nepali village without running water, and taught sex education in the northern Andes, and backpacked through Central America and Indonesia and Cambodia, and climbed to the top of Borneo’s highest peak, and studied 16 hours a day for 2 years to get my masters degree in foreign service.
That is, to seek a greater understanding of my world, and to use that knowledge to leave it a better place than I found it.
I’m not sure Mr. Messick will ever see this post, but if he does, I hope the pictures and captions that follow convey what Julia Polloreno, Editor of Triathlete Magazine, wrote on my rapid rise in the sport: “For (Kendra), triathlon is simply a medium that allows her to live more adventurously, consciously, gratefully.”
And now, my trip through northern Vietnam in pictures and words:
A massive thanks to my sponsors:
Zoot, for my awesome kit, shoes, and speedsuit
Amy’s Kitchen, for my organic, non-GMO, vegetarian fuel
SmartWool, for keeping my feet happy
Nalgene, for optimal hydration in the Vietnamese sauna
Rose Physical Therapy, for getting me across that line
TheMMRF, for giving me the ultimate reason to race
My coach, Tim of QT2
Fred, Princess, Shirley, Bang and everyone at Sunrise Events
Thao, my awesome roomie
Jason, my host
Mr. Ban, the incredible bike guide from Indochina Bike Tours