I was riveted to the Olympic triathlon last year as two fellow Yorkshiremen, the Brownlee brother, swam, cycled and ran to earn their places on the medal podium, and equally riveted to the first ever Paralympic triathlon in which fellow gay Brit David Hill competed.
Thinking back to my
childhood it seemed that the marathon was the ultimate in extreme sports. These
days millions of people run marathons, some even running more than one in a
week. The idea that the marathon, as exemplified in the very first one in
Ancient Greece in which the runner died, was the ultimate in human endeavour
has long since been surpassed.
Triathlon was the
immediate extreme successor to the marathon. Again, today there are thousands
of people who ware regular triathletes. One of the pioneers of women’s marathon
and triathlon is Sally Edwards (b.1947).
Sally was born in Florida.
She has 3 older brothers. Coming from a large family myself (I have 5 siblings)
I know how a competitive streak can develop early in life. After graduating
from the University of California Berkeley with degrees in physical education
and exercise physiology Sally served in the American Red Cross before taking up
In 1976 Sally founded her
first business, Fleet Foot Sports, with her then partner Elizabeth James.
Starting from one store in Sacramento Fleet Foot, which sold specialist sports
footwear, had expanded to 40 stores across the US by the time they sold the business
By this time Sally was an
experienced marathon runner. Her first triathlon was in 1980 during the early
years of the sport. In fact, in 1980 the current format hadn’t been
established. Today the order of triathlon is swim, cycle, run. In 1980 it was
the other way round. Sally didn’t finish her first triathlon. Many of those
early triathletes found that the final swim led to difficulties in the water
and even hypothermia in some cases, like Sally’s. The order was reversed to
prevent the probability of triathletes drowning in the final stage.
Also in 1980 Sally
competed in the Western States Endeavour Run, a gruelling 100 mile run, which
she won in a time of just over 22 hours. The next year she finished in an even
faster time, though in second place. During the 1980s Sally continued to
compete in marathon, triathlon and Ironman events. She has competed in 16
In 1982 she co-founded the
Sacramento Long Distance Running Association which now attracts over 8,000
runners to its annual marathon.
In 1984 Sally became one
of the pioneers of women’s Olympic marathon. The Olympic Games in Los Angeles
were the first to feature women’s marathon and Sally was selected for the US
trials though she didn’t reach the required time for selection to the Olympic
However, Sally’s successes
in triathlon continued. In 1989 she was approached by the sportswear company
Danskin with the offer to become their figurehead for a brand new women-only
triathlon series, the first of these being held in 1990. There were very few
female triathletes at the time and they often competed alongside the men.
Sally had by now also started
to become an established writer. To date she has written 24 books on triathlon,
health and fitness. No doubt these books (the first one published in 1982) and
her role with Danskin helped to inspire thousands of women to take up
triathlon. During the Danskin triathlon’s 20th anniversary in 2009 it was
announced that over 23,000 women had registered to compete that year.
One aspect of triathlon
which Sally feels is very important is to make women feel they can complete the
gruelling event and not be afraid of finishing last. To this end Sally decided
that the best encouragement she can give is to be the last finisher herself, so
that no other woman can be. It’s ironic that Sally, one of the pioneers and
early record-holders in women’s triathlon should now have the record for
finishing last in more triathlons than anyone else.
The number of marathons,
triathlons and long-distance running events Sally Edwards has compete in runs
into the hundreds. She was recognised by the organisers of the sport by being
inducted into several triathlon Halls of Fame, including the USA Triathlon Hall
of Fame in 2011.
Sally continues to inspire
athletes with guest lectures and talks, and her most recent business venture
involving using technology in school sports and fitness classes.
Even though Sally Edwards
hits her 70th birthday later this year she shows no sign of slowing down. Her
energy has kept her going and in my calculations are right she has swum, cycled
and run the equivalent of the whole of the equator. If that’s not extreme I
don’t know what is!