Bethany Hamilton, the 14-year-old surfer from Kauai who lost her left arm in a shark attack last October, was passed a symbolic torch by Herman Frazier, University of Hawaii athletic director, during a ceremony Friday in honor of Hawaii's first-ever Olympic qualifying triathlon in Waikiki. The Olympic portion of the race begins this afternoon at 12:30.

Taormina overcame

Nobody would have blamed Sheila Taormina if she never wanted to compete in a triathlon again.

She was at her first World Cup in Switzerland five years ago when she had a race that would have discouraged even the most resolute competitor. Taormina's experience was a disaster at best as she finished 36th and near last, despite a promising start.

Honolulu Triathlon

When: Today

Times: Public, 6 a.m.;
Race to Athens, women, 12:30; men, 3 p.m.

Where: Race begins and ends at Kapiolani Park


She was among the first to emerge from the water, but in her haste during the transition to the bike, she put on someone else's gear and grabbed the wrong bike. The mistake cost her about 30 seconds to fix as she raced back to switch the equipment. (The owner of the gear didn't notice since she wasn't out of the water yet.)

Taormina found all her own stuff and zoomed off again, but took a turn too fast and slid into a barricade 2 miles into the bike portion of the triathlon. She rose quickly again and could still see the leader.

With thoughts of catching up, Taormina tried to take off again, but unbeknownst to her, she had damaged her brakes in the accident. Her front wheel locked and she toppled over her handle bars.

She wasn't discouraged by the unfortunate chain of events and was still optimistic when she called home to tell her parents about the race.

"I told (my mom) I'm having a great time here," Taormina said. "The women from the USA are really nice. Switzerland is really beautiful and I'm so glad I came. I was really trying to look at all the beautiful things that had taken place that trip.

"My mom doesn't give compliments very often. Her comment was, 'Honey, I've always been proud of you. You've always been a good loser.' "

She wasn't a loser for long, and by her sixth triathlon, she was glad she stuck it out in the sport. Taormina won the Pacific Grove (Calif.) International Triathlon and has won at least one triathlon every year since.

The two-time Olympian is racing for her third Olympics today in the USA Triathlon trials. The elite division begins at 12:30 p.m. at Queens Beach. The men's elite starts at 3 p.m.

Taormina, ranked No. 3 in the world, is among an elite group of athletes to compete in the Olympics in two different sports. She won a gold medal in swimming (800-meter freestyle relay) in 1996 and finished sixth overall in the triathlon in Sydney.

"The thing I probably admire most is both Sheila and Barb (Lindquist) came into the sport later on ... and they became great competitors," said national teams director Libby Burrell, who witnessed Taormina's first international race six years ago in South Africa.

"They've really worked to get themselves to where they are. When I look at them on Sunday and after the other races, I see a connection of years of dedication and hard work."

If Taormina earns her spot in the Athens Olympics today, she would see it as a blessing. Her first Olympics took 21 years, and qualifying for Sydney a year after becoming a triathlete was a bonus. Win or lose, she is content with what she's done.

"I worked the best I can with what I've been given," said Taormina, who once worked as a Waffle House waitress to support her swim career after she completed her eligibility at the University of Georgia. "And then the results take care of themselves. I'm emotionally set, spiritually set whether or not I make the team.

"I always tell people that my life is pretty much going to be the same. I have to clean the kitty litter every day. I'm going to have to make breakfast every day."

That she reached this point in her career is a marvel considering the instability of her life just two years ago. Besides being a hazard to herself sometimes, Taormina had to deal with a real danger when she was the victim of a stalker with a mental illness.

"I moved out of my house," Taormina said. "You can't predict what they're going to do. The ultimate fear is that you'll be violently hurt or even killed."

Her stalker was never far from her mind and during some races, she was often distracted while riding the bike and wondering if the car that drove past her was him.

"I considered dropping out of the sport at one point," said the Michigan native, whose stalker is in prison now. "If my life is possibly in danger, it's not worth staying in the sport. ... The ultimate fact that convinced me (to stay) was that race directors were very supportive in having the police briefed. For one race, I entered under a different name at the hotel.

"I felt there was enough awareness of the situation that ... I'm no more in danger in races than anywhere else."

Except occasionally to herself.


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