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Monday, May 2, 2016

The Triathlon Queen

Monday, July 2, 2007

Former Storm Laker discovers three passions rolled into one

Paula Queen's quests include initiating a triathlon in Storm Lake, hooking all her friends on the sport and teaming up with John Brostad in pursuit of a 2008 co-ed Ride-Run title, but not necessarily in that order.

Queen, who can't make this year's Star Spangled Spectacular, is that rarest of preacher's daughters: the one who openly professes an affinity for what she calls "kick-butt sports," and then goes out and delivers.

Queen kicked 1,700 of them last Sunday.

The budding triathlete finished 23rd out of 285 in the 32-34 age group of the Subaru Women's Triathlon Series in Naperville, Ill., a sprint-distance tri in which 1,880 women raised a total of $85,000 for ovarian cancer research. Queen herself rounded up more than $700 and finished the race - approximately a 500-meter swim and 13-mile bike, followed by a 5-kilometer run - in 1 hour, 26 minutes, setting a personal record by over 15 minutes in her third career triathlon.

"I don't have a desire to run a marathon. I like short, intense, kick-butt sports," Queen, 32, said Tuesday from her downtown Chicago residence, where she works in business development and marketing for an architectural firm. "I'm a very proud female athlete. I love watching women who continue to be athletes beyond the collegiate years. I think it's very cool when I'm doing races and I'm seeing moms, grandmas; that's very empowering to me.

"I want women of all ages to feel success and pride within themselves."

Queen didn't always want to be a triathlete. Growing up in Storm Lake, the daughter of Rev. Duane and Donna Queen dreamt of becoming an Olympic gymnast (Mary Lou Retton was her Michael Jordan), then an Olympic trackster, then a marathoner.

She ran cross country and track for Brostad's Tornadoes from 1989-93 and did the same at Hastings College in Nebraska for two years before switching to soccer, which she would coach in a brief 2001 stint at Buena Vista University.

She stayed in shape through soccer matches and road races after college ended, but a year ago her boyfriend introduced her to the world of triathlons - and suddenly, she had a new passion. A new means through which to compete and challenge herself.

She learned to swim competitively. "Very hard and very scary," Queen confessed.

She tackled the technical aspects of cycling.

She trained. And trained. And trained. Every day, for at least two hours, in the house, in the gym, in the pool, on the streets. With her boyfriend. With her trainer. With her swim coach.

She ran the Subaru last summer. And she got hooked.

"As soon as a triathlete learns that you're another triathlete, you're in," said Queen. "The triathlon community is so positive; when you start talking to people before a race, they want to see you do well. And it's amazing how tough your mind is and what your body can go through. It was amazing how I just did three completely different races inside of one. When you're on your bike, you're not thinking about the miles ahead of you. You're just thinking, 'keep picking people off.' I joke with myself, 'your pretty shoes are waiting; if you can't run, just let your shoes carry you.' You literally have to forget that you just did everything and you have to have that open race.

"I got hooked and I decided I wanted to get good."

Queen doesn't put much stock in a person's so-called ability - it "only puts a ceiling on your dreams and the things you're curious about in life," she says - but rather credits her work ethic, which came from her family. "It's not the ability I was given or not given, it's the time and commitment that help me achieve the goals I set," she said.

Thus, the 7:30 mile pace she's trekking during triathlons will whittle down toward her goal of 6:30; the time spent recovering from a soccer tournament injury last summer will not throw her off pace. She will continue to hold her own in the water: "There's so many bodies and you're just getting kicked and pushed and pulled down; it's pretty frantic, but once you get your space it's pretty cool."

She will see to it.

Queen was scared to death of her first Olympic distance triathlon, the Hy-Vee World Cup in Des Moines June 16, in which roughly 500 of the participants dropped out of the event encompassing 1,500 meters of Gray's Lake swimming, 25 miles of cycling and a 10K run for good measure.

Queen was not one of them. She charged 2:53:57, good for 33rd place in the 30-34-year-old female division.

And she had some help.

"We had to make two loops (on foot) in downtown Des Moines. On my first loop I needed to have someone yelling my name," said Queen, who has the event circled on her 2008 calendar. "I turn the corner, and there's my whole family yelling my name. I just kept hearing my dad's voice. It chokes me up. All these (spectators), 10,000 people, and I hear just one voice.

"It was like being a kid again."

Fittingly, the finish was straight uphill, but again, Queen had some good old fashioned Lakeside Presbyterian aid.

"It's Father's Day, and here's my dad running up the hill with me, cheering me," Queen said. "Here he is, turning 65 in a couple days, running the tail with me."

If triathlon is a sport of community, it's also a litmus test for one's own quest - in athletics and life.

"When I race," said Queen, "it's just me. All the training and time spent preparing - it's me. The first triathlon finish line I crossed was so overwhelming to me. I had accomplished something I had not even dreamt of before. I had accomplished fear, uncertainty, exhaustion, wavering thoughts, competition and success.

"It was because of all those factors that I welled up with tears."

And she knew the triathlon had become her race.

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