Monday, April 23, 2012

A Life Without Limits: Book Review

Author: Chrissie Wellington, with Michael Aylwin (2012)
277 pages, with 14 full-colour photographs
Constable Books
Chrissie Wellington is a quadruple-Ironman world champion. She has competed in 13 Ironman triathlons and never lost any. Known affectionately as Muppet because she is accident-prone, she continues to prevail in both sports and in her charity work. Her life story was published soon after her fourth, Phoenix-style win at Kona, Hawaii in 2011. This girl from Norfolk, UK rose from the ashes of despair and disaster, to pull off one the most stunning victories in the sport's history.

Three key features of Wellington’s biography are her history with humanitarian work, her tumultuous relationship with her former-coach, and her motivations for training and racing supremely hard. And, she sounds like a genuinely nice person and relevant ambassador of the fast-growing global sport.

Wellington is honest about her battles with eating during her youth, and how she continues to keep them at bay. She shares her raw truth with absolute honesty and sensitivity, as she courageously acknowledges how this can be more a personal issue than medical. She reveals her paradigm shifts, and how she learnt to refocus her priorities and rectify her relationships, through her very close and warm family and dedicated caring friends. She wrote about her work with the civil service, her active physical pursuits (Nepal, Summits & Volcanoes), ignorance about triathlons, promoting triathlon as a mainstream sport, and her awards (world titles, an MBE, and an honorary doctorate). She also openly describes her blossoming and complementary relationship with her boyfriend, Tom Lowe - perhaps, the final piece in her elusive coaching puzzle (which coach Sutton alluded to).

A large part of her book describes her relationship with her coach (The Wizard of Oz), Brett Sutton. He figures significantly in her professional triathlete life, where his spartan training approach was a major factor towards Wellington realising her potential. She has endured much with him, yet her endurance and mental tenacity has enhanced her through the myriad of dramas. As much as Wellington fights him, she eventually learnt how to surrender her mind to him. Wellington has clarified many things about the dark mystique about this man, yet much of her relationship with this controversial coach is based on trust and mutual respect. Despite their competitive natures and personal issues, she even defends her former-coach by explaining away some untruths about Sutton, who remains adamant about his privacy and silence. Wellington shares some of her conversations with her coach, backed with electronic-mail.

I enjoyed the chapter where she lists her Heroes of Ironman, including Jon Blais (a Kona finisher with ALS) and the 80-years-young, multiple-Ironman finisher Sister Madonna Buder. Wellington performs the Blazeman Roll after she crosses the line after winning her world championship titles. She also describes her return to racing fitness after her major illnesses and injuries almost compromised her career. She describes her 2011 race with a blow-by-blow account that reads painfully, yet admirable for her ability to sense clarity and connectivity in those nine hours of racing. Not being in the lead for the very first time during the world championships, was an epiphany for her. You can read about it in her last chapter, before the Epilogue. She describes her personal thoughts and emotions with each major win, setting new records and a vicious virus, as well as the tough relationships she had to endure after each win. Wearing the crown was not easy for her, as well as learning to be on her own two feet (without a coach).

So, this book is not so much about a young athlete who has set legendary records. She is a person deeply into development, exploring and exceeding her capabilities. It is also a story about a world champion who defeated her demons and comes out triumphant.

Strongly recommended.

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