Women’s History Month acknowledges the accomplishments and contributions of women to American history and culture. The celebration is complemented by International Women’s Day, which expands that recognition to a global scale.
Here at USA Triathlon, we’re also taking some time to shine a spotlight on several highly accomplished women who have made their athletic mark in multisport, and continue to influence athlete and sport development through coaching and entrepreneurship.
This week’s article features Boston and Chicago Marathon champion and former pro triathlete Lisa Rainsberger, as well as Olympic triathlete and current USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program Manager Barb Lindquist.
How did you decide to start competing in multisport?
BARB: I started competing in triathlon because it provided a new challenge after my NCAA swimming career. It also played to my strengths of a high school track background and bike-friendly locale of my post-Stanford home in Jackson, Wyoming. I loved competing because every race was not the same, and it forced me to think and act on my toes. There are always ways to get better or more efficient with training, so it’s like a puzzle.
LISA: Triathlon became a medal sport in 2000. Up until then, I was competing in the marathon, primarily just a distance runner. * When it became a medal sport, I thought, “Well, you know, I can swim.” I swam at Michigan and had qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 400 IM. I was very intrigued by the sport, so I came over to Colorado Springs for a visit. I met with some of the coaches and administrative staff at USA Triathlon and decided to give it a go. I started training and had some very positive performances. I was a pro triathlete for two years before I found myself happily pregnant with my daughter, Katie. I decided that I had had a great 20-year career, and gave up triathlon so I could focus on being a mom.
*Until Desiree Linden’s victory in 2018, the last American female to win the Boston Marathon was Lisa, in 1985.
What was it like to be a pro at the time? Did you face any challenges as a woman?
LISA: In college it was very evident that there were inequities. The men’s team traveled in air-conditioned travel coaches—big buses that had TVs, and bathrooms in the back. And we women had to drive ourselves in these little rickety vans, even though we were going to the same meet. The women’s uniforms were like hand-me-downs, and the men’s were always new and shiny. The men also got beautiful, leather-sleeved letter jackets, and we got boiled wool.
When I graduated and started running professionally, the inequities were in the contracts that we got as professional athletes from shoe companies and sponsors. The women were often paid less. I would go to a race, and the men’s winner would get $10,000 and the women’s winner would get $5,000. Over time, things started to change. Women’s contracts started to increase. Prize money was equalized.
By the time triathlon became a medal sport, I think their standards were actually set so that women would get the same amount of prize money and the same amount of opportunity. I felt that there wasn’t really any difference in opportunity and availability for triathlon between men and women. Because it had become a sport so late in the evolution of women’s sport, it entered the scene pretty equal.
What was great about being a female pro?
BARB: The camaraderie and friendships made with training partners and competitors, the respect of excellence shown amongst women, the love of being sharpened to be better by my competition. Triathlon has always been an equal prize money sport, which is something that not every professional sport can claim. It’s something we should be very proud of. If I had to name any challenge of being a woman in the sport, I’d say that sponsorship was more difficult to attain for women, perhaps because there are more male age group athletes and sponsors thought that males could represent a product better to them than females.
LISA: When I started the sport, I became part of a resident team in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. They gathered athletes from all over the country who met competitive standards, and we all trained together. We all had a team coach and trained together, people helped us with our equipment, we had pool time at the Olympic Training Center, we had bike time at the Velodrome. Whatever it was that we needed, we trained as a group. There was that power of the group and that camaraderie, and that love-hate the group, that I found really enjoyable. Coming from running, there’s the loneliness of the long-distance runner. You’re out there by yourself a lot when you’re a distance runner.
Why are you still involved in multisport?
BARB: I’m still involved today because triathlon is such an exciting, changing, cutting-edge sport. I’m humbled to introduce and play a part [in developing] our next generation of superstars.
LISA: At the time I became pregnant, I had a training partner who asked me to coach her in running. She knew I came from a strong running background, and that was her weakness. She said, “Even though you’re pregnant and you’re not going to be competing, would you help coach me so I can be a better runner?” So I started coaching a triathlete named Susan Williams. Susan went on to win a bronze medal in the Olympics, in Athens. I saw there was a niche, a need for that level of coaching, so I started my coaching company (TrainingGoals.com) and took on athletes as they became available.
What is like to be a female pro or coach today?
BARB: Working in the High Performance department at USA Triathlon for the last 13 years, I’ve seen how our support of elites has grown dramatically compared to my first year of racing. At my first World Championships in Cleveland as an elite in 1996, there was no team meeting, team support (mechanic, masseur, coaching), team hotel or help with travel. I don’t remember anyone from HP reaching out prior to the race to talk strategy. It is a completely different situation now, as the whole sport has grown and become more professional in its support of athletes, both male and female.
Just as when I was racing, because of their depth and success, the U.S. women on the ITU circuit do get more press than the men. Perhaps because of my racing background, I have never felt disrespected by my male counterparts in the coaching world. I feel our sport embraces female coaches. Personally, my only limitations as a female coach come from prioritizing my family and children over a coaching business. That said, because I have many roles in my own life to balance, I feel as a coach I can better understand the challenges that my own athletes have. But that’s not to say a male coach can’t have that understanding as well!
LISA: It’s a college sport now, so you’re seeing the sport grow within the collegiate system. And in Title IX, there is the equity. What you’re seeing is that it’s gathered a lot more respect. Back in the very early stages of triathlon, people seemed to think it was more for the outliers of sport—the crazy people. Now it’s so professionalized. It’s an Olympic sport. We’ve gotten Olympic medals in the past, and frankly, here in the United States the women have done better in the Olympic arena than the men have.
Today I’m primarily coaching youth. Many of my youth athletes participate in triathlon. They have parents who are doing triathlons, they’ll go to a race with their parents and there’s a kids or youth race, and they get involved in the sport as a tag-along. I coach many youth athletes who are triathletes who come to me for their running piece of their triathlon. They’re so pliable, so energetic and eager. Everything’s new and exciting. They wear their heart on their sleeve. I feel like I have such an influence on how they fall in love with sport. I find that very rewarding, and I feel like there’s been a rebirth in my coaching since I started to focus strictly on kids age 7 to 19.
How have development opportunities changed for young female athletes?
BARB: Young female athletes now have incredible role models in our elite women. The U.S. women have quality of depth on the international stage, winning or being in the podium mix at the highest level of events. Katie Zaferes, Kirsten Kasper, Taylor Spivey, Chelsea Burns, Renee Tomlin, and Summer Cook all are showing young women how to be successful both on the field of play and on the field of life, by being positive, lovely women representing their country and sponsors well. Beyond role models, the Junior Elite series, the number of High Performance teams, and the NCAA emerging sport movement are all training, racing, and support opportunities for young female athletes that were not present when I was racing.
LISA: I think the female athletes have the same opportunities as the male athletes. I think that is the story. The story is that triathlon is equally available for males and females. it’s a great thing that we’re not discussing the fact that women don’t get the same opportunities as men in the sport.
What makes female participation in multisport unique? What helps women thrive in multisport?
LISA: I think it just creates a whole level of respect for women because they’re able to do a sport that requires a lot of endurance, a lot of technical abilities, speed, grace, fitness. When you see that, when you’re a spectator watching triathlon from the sidelines, you want what they have. You want to get out there and participate because you see that females are able to do anything possible in the sport. It creates an environment of respect. Mothers can do it, old women can do it, young girls can do it. There’s a cross section of participation. There are large women who can do it, small women who can do it, women with disabilities who can do it. There are women with varying levels of education. Triathlon doesn’t discriminate. As long as you’re able to do the training and have the equipment, and have the opportunity to race, there’s just no end to the possibilities.
There’s a community out there. Not too long ago, five of my girlfriends and I went and did a half IRONMAN, and we spent the weekend together. We traveled together. We stayed in a cute little bed and breakfast together. We just participated in this journey together, and it created this community, our little village of women. The friendships that I take away from the sport are important. We all felt empowered and we all felt good about ourselves, and we had a fun weekend of just being women.
BARB: Just go to any age-group race and watch the finish chute. In our sport, you will find women of every shape, size, and age. Any female watching on the sidelines who thinks they are too big or too slow to do our sport cannot help but be encouraged. There are so many women’s clubs and coaches whose mission is to bring women into the sport. There is something unique about our sport in that it is challenging, and because of that, the sense of accomplishment when finishing is life-changing. The confidence and empowerment that a woman can feel when she finishes a race does not end at the finish line. It goes with her to her job, her family, her marriage.
What would you say are key changes that have improved multisport involvement for women? What could still be improved?
BARB: The more women who are involved in the sport is in itself a built-in improvement mechanism, because women are vocal and will share and encourage a friend or family member to give tri a try. I’d love to see even more women’s-only races.
LISA: In my home town, I’d like to see more opportunity for youth. Let’s develop them from the ground up. What I see is people becoming involved in the sport after they either become a swimmer with a local swim team, or when they’re a little bit older, but it would be fun to have kids’ camps or races or events. I direct the Kokopelli Kids Trail Running Series. Why not have a youth triathlon series? I think that would be fun for our community. A little more grassroots availability for kids to participate.
What advice do you have for women who are just getting into triathlon? What advice for an athlete who wants to pursue coaching?
LISA: For the athlete who is new, my first recommendation is to get a coach. You can avoid a lot of mistakes if you start right off with getting the right coach. They can help you plan your training and help you with equipment choices. An entry-level triathlete shouldn’t go buy a $6,000 bike! If you have a coach, he or she could help guide you through the process of learning about the sport and developing your training.
For the athlete who is ready to step back and move on to help others, go for it! Create a mission statement and a business plan. Get yourself a website. Then reach out to the people you know. Develop your coaching style and get involved. Find your niche—a group of people you really want to work with. I think there’s always going to be a need for quality coaches.
NEXT WEEK: Olympic medalist Susan Williams and Fleet Feet founder, sports entrepreneur and former pro triathlete Sally Edwards
BARB METZ LINDQUIST’S triathlon career highlights her consistency, perseverance, and excellence. Of her 134 pro career starts, she won 33 races, stood on the podium 86 times, and had 114 top-10 finishes, covering all distances from sprint to IRONMAN and specializing in the Olympic distance. She was a member of the USA Triathlon World Championship Team for 10 straight years, with her best finish being a silver medal in 2002 at Cancun, Mexico. The pinnacle of her career was representing the USA in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Barb was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2010 and the ITU Hall of Fame in 2017.
After retiring from racing in 2005, Barb began to coach triathletes, to inspire others by sharing her story through public speaking, and to work part-time for USA Triathlon. Barb is a USAT Level II Certified Coach. For USA Triathlon, Barb runs the Collegiate Recruitment Program where she identifies talent from the NCAA swimming and running programs in order to talent ID for the Olympic pipeline. Barb and her husband, Loren, live in Alta, Wyoming, with their 12-year-old twin boys, instilling in them the joys of the outdoor life. Those joys include swimming, biking, running, skiing, and golfing.
LISA LARSEN RAINSBERGER launched an athletic career in 1968 by swimming 1,500 meters across Goguac Lake and winning her age group at the age of 6. Lisa went on to swim and to run track and cross country at the University of Michigan, earning all-America honors in all three sports. Her victories at the Boston Marathon in 1985, and at the Chicago Marathon in 1989 and 1990, as well as numerous American and world records, highlight her running accomplishments. In 1980 Lisa qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. However, the United Stated boycotted the 1980 Olympics and Lisa was unable to compete. In 1984, 1988 & 1992, Lisa finished fourth in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, making her the Olympic Team Alternate. In 1988, Lisa ran in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials and finished fifth in the 10,000 meters, running a PR of 32:12.
Finally, heading into the 2000 Olympics, Lisa was on her way as a professional triathlete. After Lisa finished fourth American at the U.S. Triathlon National Championships, she and her husband, Ellis, discovered they were expecting their first child. After the birth of her daughter in 1998, Lisa officially retired from national competition and launched her coaching business, TrainingGoals.com. She currently focuses on coaching youth and directs the Kokopelli Kids Trail Running Series.