June 14, 2010
By Paul Kasabian '10
Jim Brown was a member of the football, lacrosse, track, and basketball teams at Syracuse University, and is considered by many as the greatest professional football player of all time.
Jim Thorpe played professional football, basketball, and baseball, and further proved his masterful athleticism in the decathlon and pentathlon events by winning gold in the 1912 Olympics.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias won 10 LPGA majors, two track and field gold medals, and dazzled on the basketball court as a High School All-American. She also played baseball and was considered an adept roller skater, bowler, and diver.
Those are all incredibly impressive resumes. Take a deep breath before you read this, however.
Kathryn Bertine ’97 ran cross-country and track and played softball in high school, rowed varsity for Colgate, competed professionally in figure skating, participated in elite triathlons, and attempted to make the 2008 Beijing Olympics in open water swimming, pentathlon, race walking, road cycling, rowing, team handball, and track cycling over a two-year period that took her to ten different countries. In the midst of her Olympic tryouts, Bertine found time to participate in the prestigious Hawaii Ironman triathlon and give luge the old college try.
Even when compared with some of the best athletes in history, Bertine can lay claim to being one of the most versatile competitors on the planet, a jack-of-all-trades capable of playing honorably on ice, water, dirt and pavement.
She’s also written a book about her Olympic endeavors. Published by ESPN, As Good as Gold: 1 Woman, 9 Sports, 10 Countries, and a 2-Year Quest to Make the Summer Olympics hit bookstores in April. Bertine outlines her experiences in easy-to-read, witty prose that anyone who has ever put life, limb, and sanity on the line to achieve a lifelong dream can identify with.
As Good as Gold is a lengthy extension of a 14-part online series Bertine wrote for ESPN.com entitled, “So You Wanna Be an Olympian?” In 2006 ESPN approached Bertine to document attempts to become an Olympian in any sport. Bertine, who wrote a 2003 memoir detailing her professional skating experiences, agreed and set off on a wild quest to qualify for the Olympics. She traveled to multiple corners of the world, traversing anywhere from Cortland, New York to China and from Colorado Springs, Colorado to St. Kitts and Nevis, a small country located in the Caribbean.
When she received a phone call from ESPN about the offer, Bertine reacted with “straight-up disbelief.”
“To be handed a job opportunity that involved your two life passions, writing and athletics, was really beyond my wildest dreams. And also, [I felt] a real feeling of relief, because of where I was -- I was unemployed and things were tough so to have that fall into my lap was awesome.”
However, time was not Bertine’s ally, for she only had two years to qualify.
“The time frame of just having two years -- that was the toughest challenge in terms of the literal sense. Mentally I was so invigorated by the process, so really the only thing that was difficult was the physical aspect of training for something. I loved the entire journey. Physically I was at wits end, but that’s a difficulty every athlete goes through, so that wasn’t unique.”
The genesis for Bertine’s quest was an ESPN.com editor’s boast to co-workers while watching the 2006 Olympics. The editor claimed that anyone “halfway athletic” could ride a luge -- a conversation starter that became the genesis for Bertine’s quest. Luge, Bertine soon found out, demands just as much from its competitors as any other Olympic sport.
“[The luge] was terrifying and exhilarating. Luge was actually the sport that physically beat me up the most. They make it look so easy on TV, but at that velocity any fiber of your body twitches at the ripple effect of the speed, and after you bang into one wall it’s like a pinball effect. Luge was physically the toughest sport.”
Unfortunately, Bertine did not make the 2008 Olympics for a United States team, giving her editors a new idea: Receive dual citizenship in another country and qualify for one of their teams.
“At first I wasn’t too keen on it, and then I started thinking about it: Maybe the project and my personal Olympic dream could be more beneficial to others than myself.”
Bertine landed a dual citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis, and set forth to qualify for the Olympics through road cycling, but fell short of that goal, a shortcoming largely due to a lack of time (Olympic hopefuls need to obtain a certain number of points through competing in different races to qualify). Out of that Olympic attempt, however, berthed the formation of the first women’s cycling federation in St. Kitts and Nevis. In essence, Bertine had come now across a completely divergent path, making lifelong friends and helping leave a lasting mark on her adopted home.
The lifelong dream is not dead, though, for the London Olympics are just two short years away. As one can imagine, Bertine has set her sights across the pond to become the first St. Kitts and Nevis cyclist to qualify for the Olympics. Qualification races begin next year.
As for now, Bertine juggles numerous hats, working as a freelance journalist while adhering to a busy road cycling schedule. She submitted a piece for Fathers & Daughters & Sports, an ESPN anthology with contributions from writers such as ESPN’s Bill Simmons and the New York Times’ George Vecsey as well as athletes such as former tennis great Chris Evert and BMX pro Jill Kintner. Fathers & Daughters & Sports was released this month and tells tales of fathers and daughters bonding over sports. Bertine’s essay tells her experiences at a 2005 triathlon while interspersing various athletic moments involving her father over her life.
“My father and I competed in the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. I had just turned pro and I was 30, and my father was competing in 65-69 age group. We were both in parallel worlds, in that here I was the oldest rookie in my division and here’s my dad racing at the age of 65 and we’re both trying to cheat time a little bit, and it was a wonderful experience. It really just meant a lot to me.”
Overall, one can take home many lessons from Bertine’s story, including the obvious lessons of stubborn persistence towards achieving a dream and living life to it's fullest. A third, however, maybe the biggest lesson of all: you never truly know what adventures life holds.
“You’re thinking you’re on one quest, but you’re really on another,” Bertine says. “The assignment ESPN presented was to try and get to the Olympics, but now my entire life has changed.”
Both As Good as Gold and the newly released Fathers & Daughters & Sports are available on Amazon now, the former book receiving nothing but 5-star reviews so far. You can follow Kathryn’s exploits around the world on kathrynbertine.com.