Becoming Superwoman

A Chico woman challenges herself by entering her first triathlon

photo by Tony McKnight

The Chico Sports Club Women’s Triathlon Training Group, coached by Preben Nielsen, is in its fourth year of taking ordinary women like myself and turning them into super women.

Nielsen says his primary goal is to offer women an encouraging and motivating environment for training that culminates in a “goal event.” ; For my group, this was the Nike Women’s Triathlon in Sacramento on Oct. 14, where we were to swim a half-mile, bike 12 miles and run three miles.

Our group had participants of all ages, shapes and sizes. We had mothers and grandmothers, students and teachers, an attorney and a factory worker. Most of the women were beginners like me, but some had trained with the group for several years.

Nielsen provides each participant with a training plan, and the group has flexible meetings twice a week to run, swim or bike. Over the course of our 12-week training, I discovered one of Nielsen’s coaching secrets is never to tell the women exactly what is store until they are doing it. Most women don’t realize their true capabilities as athletes, he believes, and too easily talk themselves out of doing physical activities they find interesting or fun. In our cases, he turned out to be right, because while everyone in our group worried about her ability to perform in the race, we were all fantastic.

This is what it was like for me—notes, you might say, on my progression from non-exerciser worried about weight gain to a successful triathlete.


I never have any time for myself. I have so much to do with the kids, my job, the house. I feel like I’m being pulled in a million different directions, and there is no room for me.


Why is my hair falling out? Am I really that stressed? Where did that 10 pounds come from? I really need to take better care of myself. Hey, look: They’re doing that women’s triathlon training group at the gym. I wanted to do that last year.


I finally start working out, and as I leave the gym I run into my friend Kathy. She tells me she is a part of the triathlon group. They are training for the Danskin in June and then for the Nike in October. She says it’s really fun and I should give it a try. I think, “Why not?” ; I could try the October event. I start exercising a little every day.

Up to the challenge: “Superwomen” like Brenda Bentley take part in the Chico Sports Club Women’s Triathlon Training Group.

photo by Tony McKnight


This triathlon idea is stupid. I can’t even run a mile. My bike is a clunker. I feel guilty when I exercise because of all the things I should be doing for my kids, husband, home, job, family, friends, pets, the world! Running and being out in the heat gives me a migraine.

June 24

I volunteer at the Danskin Triathlon in Sacramento to check it out. Hundreds of excited women are there. Some of them are cancer survivors. Some are really fast, and some are slow. Friends, family and volunteers are cheering them on. The women are all smiling at the finish line. I can do this. I register for the Nike Triathlon in October.


Everything is going great. I can run two miles (really slowly). Then I get the flu and go on vacation to England. I don’t exercise at all for three weeks.

August 6 My first training session with the WTTG. I find out I’ve been swimming all wrong for the last 20 years. Preben is impatient with all of our worries about having the right equipment, our fear of open water, whether we have the right technique, etc. His mantra: Just get moving.

August 8

My husband gives me a fast road bike for my birthday. My dad finds some old bike shorts in his drawer. I’ll wear the funny shorts and bike shoes, but I refuse to wear one of those flashy jerseys.

August 20

I bike up Humboldt Road for the first time with the training group. My lungs feel like they’re going to explode. I am one of the last finishers. Later, I forget that my shoes are clipped into my pedals and fall over in front of everyone when I come to a stop.

September 6

I go to the Chico High football game in funny-looking bike clothes. I watch my son’s game, then rush to meet the group. I have one of the fastest bike times at the time trial. This is great! Now I start to feel competitive.

The triathalon group celebrates at a post-race dinner.

photo by Tom Angel

October 2

Trying to make up for the Forest Ranch ride I bailed on, I ride up Humboldt again. On the way back, I am riding downhill in the bike lane in California Park approaching a green light at Bruce Road. At the intersection, a car comes up beside me and makes a too-fast-and-wide right turn directly in front of me. I squeeze the brakes hard and my back tire skids out from under me. Miraculously, I don’t hit the car or fall off my bike. I sit at the intersection for a few minutes to calm my pounding heart and my rage. What if I was hurt? What would my kids do without a mother? I vow to buy the brightest, flashiest jersey I can find.

October 13 & 14

Race weekend. My son has a basketball tournament in Sacramento the same weekend as my race. On Saturday, I rush between his games and the triathlon check-in, course preview, and the obligatory spaghetti dinner. I barely sleep in our cramped and noisy motel room. On Sunday, I wake up at 5:25 a.m. We load the sleepy, cranky kids into the car at 6 p.m. and head out to the course. I set up my bike and other gear in the transition area; then we all walk about a mile to the swim start. The kids stretch out on the blanket and eat pastries and fruit. We all wait and watch the fishermen on the Sacramento River as the sun rises.

The Race

It’s over in a flash. I go out quick on the swim. Past the first, second and third buoys. Right before I get to the fourth, a kayaker catches my attention and says I have gone too far. I swim back to the boat ramp. I haven’t had a chance to get nervous, feel the cold water, or think about giant river creatures lurking in the murky water. I peel off my wet suit and pull on shorts, bike shoes, a helmet and sunglasses.

The bike ride is nerve-wracking. At several places on the course bicyclists head out and back cross paths, like those Shriners who ride little motorbikes in parades through carefully choreographed figure-eights. An ambulance and fire engine soon pass me. Who planned this course? This is crazy! I feel tense and hesitant the whole ride.

After 12 miles on the bike, I am back in the transition area. I change into my running shoes and try to take off. My feet are completely numb. For the first mile and a half, I run in little baby steps as I try to get the feeling back in my toes. On the running course, I see my two oldest kids. For the first time during the race, I smile. I give them high fives as I pass and everyone cheers. I see Preben as I approach the finish. He, in testament to his push for achievement, says, “Catch her!” ; referring to the woman two steps in front of me. I don’t and watch as she crosses the line and springs into a celebrational cartwheel.

My husband is there, aiming the camera at me. My 5-year-old daughter is helping hand out the medals to the finishers. She hands me mine. “Here, Mommy. Good job.” ;

The truth is, I’m not even tired. I want to do it again.

The Chico Sports Club Women’s Triathlon Training Group has had many success stories. Diana Berexa, 33, who started training with Nielsen five years ago, is now a “pro” and frequent triathlon winner who took first place overall at the Nike event.

Margaret Bomberg, 64 and a cancer survivor, has trained with the group for several years. She has placed in many races and won first place in her age group at the Danskin and the Nike events.

Sue Kamrar, 40, has won or placed in her age group several times over the last couple of years, and she took second place in her age group at the Nike.

Janet Wright, 48, won first place at the Danskin in June, and on the same day as the Nike race she ran her first Half-Ironman Triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, 13.1 mile run). Impressively, she won her age group with a time of six hours, 17 minutes.

As for us beginners, perhaps the biggest success in our group was Darlene Henderson, a 47-year-old forklift driver and mom from Corning. The Nike triathlon was her first ever, and she took third place in her age group.

And as for me, I’m stronger, happier and leaner. Look for me at the Almond Bowl 10K in November.