But these African-American men and women are not professional athletes; rather, they are weekend warriors. While they have the same instinctive urge to compete as professionals do, they cannot devote themselves to the pursuit of sports full-time. Instead they travel across the country and to the Caribbean to compete in races, often while vacationing with their spouses and children
Making Time To Train And Compete
Take Harlem, New New York-native Luther Gales, for instance. A former police officer, Gales now works as an administrator of a city shelter and as a loan collector for Citibank. But he is thinking of giving up one of his jobs. The reason: "I'm working too hard now. I need more time to train."
Gales, 52, works out at least two hours a day. In the winter he alternates between swimming and running, putting of cycling until the spring when the weather is better. He recently started lifting weights to "get a stronger upper body" and improve his conditions and stamina.
Gales has always pursued athletic competition with enthusiasm. He learned to swim early, competing on his high school team. "I always had good endurance," he explains. "Then, in the 60s, running became the thing to do and I pursued that."
Gales say he first heard about triathlons in the early 1980s. "I knew I could do it and then I found out I was good." He started entering events sporadically, sometimes winning races in the masters and over-40 age categories.
What started out as a hobby quickly became a way of life. He began planning his vacations around races. "My vacation is taken around triathlons. My wife hates it, but she loves it. I took her to Bermuda and she asked me, 'Why are you taking your bike? I said, 'Because there's a race down there. And she said, 'I knew there was a reason.'"
Men are not the only weekend athletes who gear their vacations around competing in sporting events. Paulette Meggoe, a medical records analyst for North Central Bronx Hospital, Bronx, New York, and student at the College of New Rochelle, makes time to train in running, swimming, cycling and the martial arts. "Its very hard to find time. But I try sports on alternate days," says Meggoe, 36, a Bronx resident. Her schedule includes cycling in the morning, followed by a brisk run on her lunch hour. In the evening, Meggoe, a black belt in tae kwon do and hap ke do, does stretching exercises. "Considering the amount of training I do, I'm an athlete. You have to have discipline and [be willing to] sacrifice," she explains.
She prefers cross training to concentrating on one sport because it improves her overall endurance. "You don't just use one muscle. You use them all," says Meggoe.
"Employing different muscles and not relying on the same ones also reduces the likehood of injury," says Dr. Thomas Dickson, former team physician for the United States Olympic cycling team and director of the Allentown Sports Medicine Clinic in Allentown, Pa.
"The greatest benifit of cross training is that you're putting stress on different parts of your body. So, you don't get a lot of injuries all the time," explains Dickson. He adds that cycling, running and swimming are all good for the cardiovascular system.
Cross Training: A Growth Trend
Flavia Marin, a 42-year-old runner from Trinidad, who has also entered several triathlons, was forced to cut back from running and try other sports because of a foot injury.
"I now prefer to cross train," says Marin. "It's better for me. As I get older, I think that it's better to do a little of everything, rather than a lot of one thing."
Marin, who works as a Delta Airlines sales agent in New York City, is often able to fly to meets as part of her vacation itinerary. "I'm trying to reschedule my days off to enter events," she explains.
"If I'm able to get in a race, I think it's a good vacation. If I can't, it's not a good vacation. I carry my running shoes wherever I go," she says.
Marin is part of a growing breed of athlete that major sporting shoe companies are gearing their products toward. For example, Nike Inc., which resigned baseball and formel football megastar Bo Jackson last year to a four-year deal, will reportedly pay him $ 2 million a year to promote cross-training shoe. The Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic footwear company developed the cross-training shoe in 1987. In 1990, it earned $ 350 million from the sales of its cross-training shoes, which accc\ounted for nearly one-third of the company's $ 1.2 billion in annual shoe sales, according to Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan.
"There's been a huge growth in cross training. We needed a shoe that would satisfy athletes who are involved in a lot of different sports," say Dolan. "Because Bo was a two-sports athlete, it helped people to see the purpose of the cross-training shoe," she adds.
In fact, before Bo burst onto the scene, Nike was using triathlon star Joanne Ernst to promote its line of footwear, which combined added cushion for running along with extra stability, but was designed for other sports like basketball.
The standard triathlon consists of a 1,500-meter swim, followed by 40 kilometers of bicycling and concludes with a 10-kilometer run. Many triathlons, however, are sprints--shorter races that allow more recreational athletes to take part.
More Blacks Are Becoming Triathletes
Both Gales and Meggoe planned their vacations around Jamaica's first sprint triathlon, an 18.5-mile race held in Negril in 1991. It was produced by Trimasters, the world's only African-American/Hispanic international triathlon clun. Tri-Masters also helped produces Jamaica's second triathlon, held this past January, along with sponsors Air Jamaica, the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Negril Triathlon Committee.
Meggoe was the only black woman among 80 paticipants in 1991, a trend she hopes will change in the near future. "I'd like to see more active females get involved," she says. "It's a lot of fun. You can't let the males have all the fun."
The training and race conditions of the tiny resort town of Negril, located on the west coast of Jamaica, made it an ideal location for a triathlon.
The athletes, may of whom brought their families, trained at the facilities at Swept Away Hotel, one of Jamaica's newest all-inclusive resorts. Across the street from hotel overlooking the beach is a 10-acre fitness center, complete with aerobics instructors, racquetball courts, lighted tennis courts and the latest in Nautilus equipment.
In addition to the training complex, the island's pleasant weather and seemingly endless beaches made Negrill an ideal place to hold the race.
The weather on the Sunday morning of the race was typical: clear skies with a temperature hovering near 80 degrees, as competitors lines up along the beach preparing to dive into the ocean.
Shortly after the gun start, only heads could be seen bobbing up and down in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Guided by colorful sailboats, the swimmers completed the half-mile course and headed for the coastline, their bicycles waiting to be mounted. The swimmers-turned-cyclist madly pedaled the 15 miles down the island's main road, which overlooks the beuatiful coastline of white sand beaches.
Traffic on the windy road was rerouted throughout the race. Observers cheered the triathletes on, as a flood of workers form Negril's resort hotels handed out water to the runners as they embarked on the final three miles of the race. Unlike many other sports, long-distance running, swimming and cycling--individually and collectively--offer participants of all levels a chance to compete with some of the best athletes in those sports in the world.
"We can rub shoulders with the big guys," says Gales. "If you're an avid basketball fan, you can't just get on the court with Michael Jordan," he adds.
"These yuppies and buppies have a disposable income, but they also have the competitive edge," says Oliver Martin Jr., a former Olympic cyclist and U.S. National Cycling coach. "They want to test themselves," says Martin.
"The competition keeps the juices--the hormones or whatever--healthier," adds Martin, founder of Cycling Management Group (CMG), a South Florida-based organization that helps coordinate major cycling races. CMG also wants to get more African-Americans involved in a sportas traditionally attracted few blacks.
Triathlons have attracted even fewer blacks. Mark Sisson, former executive director of the 27,500-member Triathlon Federation of the United States, estimates that African-Americans comprise less than 500 of its members. But that is changing, in part because of Alvin Hartley, who five years ago formed Tri-Masters. The Long Island, New York-based group operates chapters in the New York tri-state area, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Negril.
"Alvin's done a great job. The sport started out as a white, upper-class, eccentric diversion for the iron man. But Alvin is helping change that," says Sisson. "Until recently, we have not had a lot of black members. Alvin is encouraging many people to join."
Tri-Masters is attracting minorities to the sport, in part, by making it affordable. It has gained corporate sponsorships such as Burger King, Speedo, Gatorade and Air Jamaica.
The 37-year-old Hartley also is helping bring the sport to other countries, such as Jamaica. "I want all the Caribbean countries to become a part of the circuit," says Hartley.
Tri-Masters, which boasts a membership of more than 150, does more than just increase its membership and organize meets. Members often go to schools encouraging kids to complete their education and stay off drugs. The message they deliver is simple and based upon the club's motto: "When you try, you can master anything in life." In 1991, the group awarded $6,000 in corporate scholarships and this year will give out almost $8,000 in scholarships.
"The sport helps you improve spiritually and mentally. The bulk of the athletes in the sport are goal-seekers," says Hartley. "The sport is comprised of obstacles. Life is based on obstacles. But, if you focus on the goal of the finish line, you'll be able to complete whatever you set out to do."
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|Title Annotation:||amateur athletics; includes related article on athletic shoes|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1992|
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