It’s the smile you remember.
Even if you’re not a triathlete or particularly well versed in the ins and outs of the Ironman World Championship, colloquially known as “Kona,” you know there is something special about the smile. It never seems to leave her face. It’s contagious to fans and spectators and (I’m guessing) somewhat annoying to competitors. Why is Chrissie Wellington smiling?
You don’t really get a straight answer in her book, “A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey.” But you do get a look into her life story with the same enthusiasm and chatty style you would expect from the gal with the constant smile on her face while she’s, oh, going undefeated at the Ironman distance, setting world records and winning world championships.
The personal memoir is a delightful and engaging read and Wellington is self-deprecating, thoughtful and honest. Her work with British government departments in development, and her several long sabbaticals, allowed for her to travel through places like South Africa, Nepal and New Zealand and her descriptions make it easy for readers to long for similar adventures. It was through a circuitous route that she ended up attempting triathlon, learning the ins and outs of endurance cycling on a journey to Everest Base Camp then running her first marathon in 2002 in London.
She began to enter multi-sport events partly on lark, partly from encouragement from friends and partly from an attitude my father would call “let’s take a look-see.” With mostly borrowed equipment and novice naivete, she whole heartedly embraced the challenge of the new adventure. Never wanting to ask “what if” she decided to quit her job, turn professional and train full time.
It’s not all rainbows and puppy dogs, mind you. Wellington is honest about her difficulties in her first year as a professional triathlete. She struggled to find friends among her teammates early on and the very social Wellington found herself isolated in her inaugural season. She broke down. She suffered illness and injury. She changed coaches several times and dealt with the emotions of leaving those relationships.
Through it all, she keeps perspective, even as she pushes her body and mind past incredible limits. Her motto on the wristband she wears reads, “Never ever give up — and smile!” Somehow, it’s comforting to know that even Chrissie Wellington needs to be reminded to smile from time to time.
Through her incredible story and her most improbable journey to Ironman greatness, the most poignant part of the book may be her epilogue. She writes:
“No one should ever be afraid of failing; it’s being afraid to give it your all in trying that I urge against. If there is one thing I have learned, particularly in my life as an athlete, it is that our limits may not be where we think they are. And, even when we think we’ve finally reached them, the next time we go there exploring we often find they’ve moved again.”
You don’t need to complete an Ironman, a triathlon or a 5K to soak in that life perspective. And smile.