Meet Kathryn Bertine, elite triathlete, former professional figure skater, and starving artist. Just as her personal and professional dreams begin to crumble in the summer of 2006, ESPN stakes her to a dream: Take two years to make the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. As Good As Gold is the heroic, hilarious account of Bertine’s serial exertions in the realms of triathlon, modern pentathlon, team handball, track cycling, road cycling, rowing, open water swimming, racewalking, and—fasten your seatbelts—luge.
On her journey, the obstacles range from jet lag to jellyfish, flat tires to floundering relationships, repeated rejection to road rash. But, as time is running out, Bertine doesn’t sweat the small stuff, only the large—like scouring the globe for a tiny nation to adopt her, and pushing her body and mind as far as it will go. Maybe all the way to China.
Between harrowing, often laugh-out-loud episodes of triumph and humiliation, Bertine takes short “Water Breaks” to contemplate the ins-and-outs of fan mail, failure, rehydration, nasal reconstruction, and how best to punish steroid users.
Kathryn Bertine swims, runs, and rides—and writes—like a champion. In As Good as Gold, Bertine proves she has something more valuable than an Olympic medal. She’s got Olympic mettle. When it comes to the human heart, she takes the gold.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On Your Mark, Get Set … June 2006
I grew up in the tiny, rather sheltered suburb of Bronxville, New York, just outside New York City in Westchester County. Please don’t hold it against me. I would have preferred being born in a log cabin in upstate New York, or perhaps a rural Western state with lots of bike paths, but my preferences were difficult to communicate while in utero. Westchester it was.
While I navigated my way through the bizarre social structures of childhood/adolescence in Bronxville (for example, going to school for thirteen years with the same class of seventy kids), I spent most of my time in the humble city of Yonkers, at Murray’s Skating Rink, where I began figure skating in 1986 at age eleven. By twelve, I was putting in close to four hours a day, beginning at 4:45 a.m.—an ordeal from which my chauffeur, who doubled as my father, has yet to recover.
As far as I know, I never made a conscious decision to be an athlete. Athletics was hardwired in my DNA. On a warm September morning in 1983, I was picked last for kickball during a third-grade recess scrimmage. Something snapped. Wiping my sweaty palms on my Wrangler jeans and Pac Man T-shirt, I went Incredible Hulk on that red rubber ball and got my first taste of adrenaline off a grand slam kick. The dream took flight immediately; I was going to play kickball in the Olympics and no one was going to stop me. Except the International Olympic Committee, which still refuses to acknowledge kickball’s Olympic potential.
When my kickball dreams were put on hold, I fell in love with figure skating. I fell in love with the physical effort. I fell in love with the coldness. I fell a lot, in general. At fourteen, I actually had a dream one night that I was at the Olympic Games. There were a lot of lights and screaming fans and a really nifty USA warmup suit. But I couldn’t see my feet. I didn’t know if I was wearing skates or not. The dream felt so real it woke me up. There were no screaming fans next to my bed, just the chhk chhk of the second hand on my Hello Kitty alarm clock. I never had that dream again, but I never forgot it.
Despite my dedication to skating, I soon realized there was not enough talent in my limbs to get to the Olympics as a figure skater. I made it to the highest level of competitive skating, Senior Ladies, and competed with the best nationally throughout high school and college. But my talent and placings were never impressive enough for me to be considered the next American ice queen. Wanting to stay involved with the world of skating, I was left with two choices: coach the next generation or join a professional ice show. After graduating from college, I chose the latter, signing contracts with the Ice Capades (which quickly went bankrupt), Holiday on Ice (which made me wear an elephant costume), and Hollywood on Ice (which toured South America and paid us in IOUs handwritten on Post-its). What a damn fool mistake that was! Now that I’m older, of course, I subscribe to the If-I-hadn’t-donethat- then-I-wouldn’t-have-gotten-here view of life’s journey. One of the great perks of being a writer is that it turns out there are no mistakes in life, just a lot of long paragraphs greatly in need of editing.
In 1997 and 1998, I toured with these skating shows, learning the hard way that athletic ability took a back seat to physical appearance and corrupt management. Professional skating was about as athletic as professional pinball. There was no need for strong muscles and diligent training. We were simply required to look as Barbie-ish as possible. Lots of the women starved themselves, drank, and did drugs. I got out after a year. I needed to be an athlete again—the only lifestyle that made sense to me.
I didn’t want to go back to amateur skating; a fresh start seemed better. I considered a return to rowing, a sport I had competed in at Colgate University. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of open water in Tucson, Arizona, where I started graduate school in creative writing. What is in southern Arizona are lots of cyclists, runners, and swimmers. I joined a local triathlon club. I was hooked. Being a triathlete was a hell of a lot better than wearing makeup and sequins and worrying about how many calories were in a cup of coffee. I decided to make a real push to become an elite triathlete. I moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2003 and trained with world champion Siri Lindley. I improved. After six years as an amateur, I was good enough to turn professional and compete for money. I met the qualifications to race as a pro—placing in the top three at three amateur races in one season, within 10 percent of the winner’s time, and in races with no fewer than five hundred women.
At about the same time, my writing life took flight when Little, Brown offered me a book contract to write about my life as a professional skater. All the Sundays Yet to Come hit the shelves in 2003. While my memoir was well received (Entertainment Weekly gave me an A- the same month John Grisham got a D+ and Toni Morrison got a B! Not that I’m competitive or anything. Noooo.), it didn’t launch me into literary stardom or pay a lot of the bills. I returned to substitute teaching and relied on that and my meager triathlon winnings to finance my chosen life of what could best be described as athletic slumming. Life was good, but not perfect. Because my triathlon skills were better suited for long-distance races—like the 140.6 mile Ironman— rather than the thirty-two-mile Olympic distance event, my Olympic dream seemed a little too dreamy. I just wasn’t fast enough to be one of the top three females at the Olympic trials. There was also the issue of my personal life falling apart. I was choreographing the closing ceremonies of my Engagement Games. Relationships—mine anyway—tended to become an emotional triathlon of jump in, give all, cry lots. I have multiple gold medals in this event. I was learning the hard way that my drive and motivation were great attributes as an athlete, but terrible faults in the I-can-fix-my-alcoholic-fiancé competition. I simply couldn’t understand how I could fix crooked derailleurs, dropped chains, stripped screws, locked pedals, broken laces, and leaking goggles but could not properly rewire another human being’s happy button. It took me years to realize the password to that control panel is strictly owner-operated.
In the spring of 2006, I met with my two editors at the ESPN compound in Bristol, Connecticut, to discuss the intricate details of my assignment/Olympic quest. Surely, attempting to get to the Olympics in two short years necessitated intricate details. The conversation went something like this.
“So, Kathryn, you have two years to try to make the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in any sport. What sport are you going to try?”
“Well, I’m going to see which U.S. sports are lesser known and start there,” I said, knowing I wasn’t exactly a shoe-in for becoming a ’four-foot-eleven, eighty-eight-pound gymnast. Nor did I have the skill set required for popular sports such as soccer and basketball. My only (naive) hope was that the off-the-beaten-path, media-starved sports might be underpopulated and undertalented.
“Okay. Try some sports and write about it for the magazine and web site. We’ll cover your travel and training expenses. You’ll get a monthly stipend for your articles,” ESPN said.
“Okay!” I said.
“Okay!” ESPN said. “Any questions?”
Yeah, I’ve got questions. How the hell do I get to the Olympics in two years? Aren’t you going to help me with this? Do you have any buddies at the IOC? Is ESPN giving me this Olympic quest because you want to see me succeed or do you want some back page comedy sportswriting schtick that no one takes seriously? Because if it’s the latter, you’ve got the wrong girl, misters. Just because you’re ESPN doesn’t mean I’m going to let you edit or undermine my Olympic efforts as an athlete or a writer. Do you think you intimidate me? Do you think I’m gonna get all starry-eyed by your media magnitude? Can I meet Lance Armstrong?
“No,” I lied. “No questions.”
“Excellent! Keep in touch. Go get ’em.”
Before I could figure out how to go get ’em, I had to go get myself a place where I could live and train and write and, most important, be happy again. My heart wasn’t ready to go back to Boulder, where my relationship ended. My mind couldn’t handle training for any summer sport in the climate and confines of New York City. The idea of moving somewhere new and unfamiliar was unsettling. I only had two years to attempt to get to the Olympics—and in new surroundings, given my capacity to get lost, I would lose some of that time just getting acclimated. I have the sense of direction of a gnat. So where could I base myself that felt familiar, comforting, and conducive to summer sports? Tucson, Arizona. Having graduated from the University of Arizona with an MFA in creative writing in 2000, I knew the city, liked the people, and loved the climate (with the exception of June and July). And unlike NYC or Boulder, I could afford to live in Tucson without eating other people’s leftovers. I packed up my truck and headed west for good.
In Beijing, there would be thirty-two sports and 302 events: archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, beach volleyball, boxing, cycling, diving, equestrian, fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, mountain biking, race walking, rowing, sailing, shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, synchronized swimming, table tennis, tennis, team handball, track and field, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling. The idea that ESPN wanted me to “choose” one bordered on the absurd. Maybe if I was five years old, there would be time to experiment with every sport on the Olympic roster. But at thirty-one, the sport would more or less have to choose me.
As an endurance athlete, I had certain skills. Like endurance. That ruled out attempting events like the 50-meter butterfly and the 100- yard dash. Also, I am most talented at being upright. That ruled out diving, trampoline, and synchronized swimming.
Obviously, it made sense to look closely at any sport/event that crossed over well from my triathlon training or my high school and collegiate sports experiences of running and rowing. Everything else on the list was likely out of reach, due to skill sets, body type, and the fact that most of these sports require training schedules to begin shortly after exiting the womb. Sailing ended up being the only sport I would have liked to try but did not get around to. As soon as there is a sailing center in the desert of Tucson, I’ll look into it. But in the meantime, this was the list I came up with.
Triathlon : This is my current sport, though I tend to do it at longer, non-Olympic distances, and therefore at a pace too slow to qualify for the Olympic team. I’d have to beat out seasoned Olympians and world champions who, up till now, have been consistently handing me my ass on a platter. On the plus side, maybe I can speed up.
Modern pentathlon : This consists of cross-country running, swimming, fencing, horseback riding, and pistol shooting—all in one day. On the plus side, no one in the United States has ever heard of it and it’s obviously crazy hard, two factors which ought to discourage top-level competition. On the other hand, I’d never fenced in my life, hadn’t been on horseback in twenty years, and the only gun I’d ever fired shot water … with a very weak stream.
Team handball : No, not the kind of handball with taped palms, a concrete wall, and a hyper little blue bouncy ball. Team handball is a hybrid of basketball, soccer, water polo, and dodgeball, a sport that is all the rage in Europe and South America. On the plus side, not much doing on that front in this country since our unexpected fourth-place finish in the 1984 Olympics. Also, I’m a good team player. I like people and whatnot. The disadvantages: The last time I played a court sport was, um, never. In addition, my hand-eye coordination consists solely of knowing the difference between my hand and my eye.
Track cycling : On the minus side, brakeless bikes scare the crap out of me, especially brakeless bikes being pedaled by packs of riders zooming around at forty miles per hour on an embanked track made of cement or hardwood. On the plus side, thanks to my experience as a pro triathlete I’m a decent road cyclist, so this seemed to offer a glimmer of hope.
Rowing : On the plus side, I rowed in college. On the other hand, I’m too big to be a good lightweight and too light to be a good heavyweight. But perhaps with a lot of lettuce or a lot of ice cream, there’s that glimmer-of-hope thing.
Open water swimming : While pool swimming has been around (and very popular) for decades, open water swimming makes its debut as an Olympic sport in China. The event is a doozy: a ten-kilometer (6.2-mile) swim across any sort of open water—lake, river, ocean—for roughly two marathonish hours. Whoever gets to the finish buoy first, wins! Simple! Except for annoying things like sharks, jellyfish, parasites, kicking limbs, hypothermia, dehydration, exhaustion, cramping, and, potentially, drowning.
Race walking : All I knew of race walking is that it’s the unsung underdog of track and field events. This seemingly bizarre sport merges running and walking into a most interesting middle ground of human motion. Supposedly, there are technique, tactics, and discipline in race walking, but how hard could it be? It’s just walking, right?
Table of Contents
Foreword Kathrine Switzer xi
How It All Began xv
Chapter 1 On Your Mark, Get Set 5
Chapter 2 Pentathlon Is Hard 13
Water Break: Letters to a Potential Sponsor 28
Chapter 3 Night of the Mangled Carcass 35
Water Break: The Yogafication of Sports Bras 55
Chapter 4 The Birth of Doable 59
Water Break: Nasal Reconstruction 75
Chapter 5 Picking Up the Night Shift 79
Water Break: The Hydration Game 86
Chapter 6 Two and a Half Women 89
Water Break: Fan Mail 101
Chapter 7 Sack of Potatoes 103
Chapter 8 Bloody Big Freakin' Jellyfish 119
Water Break: Mental Earplugs 130
Chapter 9 To Be Oar Not to Be 131
Water Break: Letter to Myself as a Fifteen-Year-Old Athlete 140
Chapter 10 Switching Gears 143
Water Break: The Olympics According to Phlegon 155
Chapter 11 U.S. National U-Turn Championships 161
Water Break Failure, Rejection, Sacrifice, Equality, and Yoda 179
Chapter 12 Hips on Fire 185
Water Break: Writing, Sports, and My Great, Great Pierre 192
Chapter 13 1-800-Polands 195
Chapter 14 Hope Hides in the Strangest of Places 207
Water Break: Bicycle Conversation With Man on a Harley Davidson at the Intersection of Sabino Canyon and Tanque Verde Roads, Tucson 222
Chapter 15 From Small Acorns Do Big Oak Trees Grow 223
Chapter 16 All Hail the WonderMinion 235
Chapter 17 The Great Wall of Chinese Cyclists 243
Chapter 18 Potholes and Jesus in South America 251
Water Break: How to Love a Female Athlete 259
Chapter 19 It Only Feels Like You're Dying 261
Chapter 20 The Tropicana Folder of Inner Peace 277
Water Break: The Price Tag of an Olympic Dream 281
Epilogue: Turn Your Brain Off and Suffer 285
Bibliography and Resources 297
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great book and an absolute pleasure to read. I have read literally hundreds of books and this is one of my all time favorites. Ms. Bertine is very humorous and her relentless determination is very inspiring. I highly recommend this book.
I was researching training at the OTC online. Couldn't find anything! This book exceeded anything I hoped for. Everday, I couldn't wait to read more. Her resolve is spectacular. The ability to swallow her pride and press for the mark of the prize is incredible. She has a Masters Degree and chooses to live like a college student/starving artist/bag lady to continue to strive for her dream. And not a guaranteed dream...just a shot at one.
This is a great book! A must read!! (And as for the bitter, angry reviewer before me, I think he must be the guy Ms. Bertine dumped in her book!)
Bertine's writing style is indistinguishable from the way she talks, i.e., amusing, nice to look at and sugary sweet on the outside but bitter, twisted, angry and narcissistic on the inside. It appears Bertine was a mid-pack sized fish in a small pond in her previous (triathlon) pursuits and now finds herself as a back-of-the-pack sized fish in the much bigger pro-cycling world. The mind is willing but the body does not appear able. She appears unable to acknowledge her own shortcomings in pursuit of goals that delay the inevitable for her, and preclude her from facing up to the some harsh family realities (her poor mother !!). Her constant need for affirmation and approval from others is highlighted nicely in the book, but her selfish and self-centred tendancies are conveniently glossed over with humourous comments at the expense of others. On the negative side, Bertine appears very adept at taking from others in order to fulfill her dream (unashamed 'begging' seems to be a consistent theme based on a quick look at her website - poor Kathryn; has she tried working I wonder ?), completely unaware of the human carnage she leaves along the way. If you ride the Shoot Out you'll know what I mean. Looking on the bright side, she is creative in that after realising she was unworthy to represent our own country (USA) she would have to go back to a smaller pond to find a sponsor. Finding that in the form of Nevis enabled her ego to be massaged again - ie beating local girls in local races - but she seems oblivious to the fact her local 'wins' came at the expense of local girls who are doing the honorable thing and trying to do it the hard way in order to represent their country, not find some sucker nation and take the first short cut that is offered. Rest assured this is all about Bertine, not Nevis and consequently, like other forum shoppers before her, Bertine dilutes the Olympic spirit a little further. Good job. Citius, Altius, Fortius ? Yeah, right.