When George Washington endeavored to travel by foot, rowboat and horse to Trenton, N.J., a few years back, little did he know he was giving birth to a new sporting event as well as a new nation.
Not-So-Gorgeous-George became the father of what would later become known as a triathlon, a means of traveling from one place to another via three different means of transportation.
Of course, Washington was not knowingly an innovator. It was the Christmas season, and he was presumably consumed with the idea of unseating some British intruders in time to watch the bowl games on New Year's Day. It was grim business.
The triathlon, if you ask me, is still grim business, though it is now deemed to be a sporting event.
Today's triathletes, as they are called, cover various distances swimming, bicycling and running. An event involving a one-mile swim, a 40-mile bicycle ride and a 10-mile run is, to them, a sprint.
Are they kidding? To me, a sprint gets me from my chair to the refrigerator and back during a commercial break. I once swam 40 laps, but I have to confess that it was in a hot tub. And I haven't ridden a bicycle since the 10th grade, when my classmates persisted in laughing at the training wheels.
These triathlons range all the way up to an "ultra" event, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26-mile run. These distances are all covered in one day, back to back, consecutively. You get the idea. Nobody packs tents, sleeping bags and rations.
I have always been curious how folks get involved in such pursuits. And why. Have you ever seen a jogger who looked like he or she was having fun? I haven't. They all have the contorted facial expressions of Don Coryell on the sidelines.
Remarkably, this is not a world populated only by the most macho of men. Translation: craziest of men.
Jacqueline Shaw, in fact, is one of the best triathletes in the world, quite likely because she ranks among the craziest of women.
"Usually people plan," she said. "I go with the flow. It's a good way to travel."
And the 29-year-old Shaw travels any way she can to get to where she has to go, assuming she has figured out exactly where that might be.
Currently, she is ensconced in the home of Carol and Sam Winner on top of a hill, located a mile or so inland from the ocean. The Winners, obviously a hospitable couple, normally have a few triathletes in residence. Carol, herself, is a competitor.
"We call ourselves The Winner Team," Shaw said. "We're like one happy family."
Happy? I would say it is likely more a case of agony liking company.
On the day I visited, Shaw had just return from a training ride on her bicycle. Oh, I wondered, probably down to the convenience store and back.
"Up to San Clemente and back," she said. "We only went maybe 85 or 90 miles today."
And then, my gasp still caught in my throat, she apologized.
"I didn't swim this morning," she said. "I usually start around 6 and swim 3,000 meters in a pool and another 1,000 in the ocean."
I almost reprimanded her for being a slacker, but she hastened to add that she would swim later instead--after she had run five or six miles.
Shaw, who won the women's division of the San Diego Invitational Triathlon last weekend, is a seemingly tireless triathlete. She will compete in Los Angeles this weekend, the third of four consecutive weeks of competition.
In 1984, for example, she competed in 20 triathlons and 50 bicycle races. You can take baseball's 162 games and basketball's 82 games plus an eternity of playoffs, and I submit that Shaw's schedule was tougher.
"I'm glad my body can't talk to me," she said, laughing, "because I don't think I'd like to hear what it would have to say."
And this woman was a Canadian schoolteacher from Calgary before the wanderlust struck. Among other places, she ended up in French Polynesia. The math and physical education teacher found herself crewing yachts and tending bar.
On her way home from the South Pacific, she landed in Los Angeles and contemplated the remainder of her journey to Calgary. She bought a bicycle, and away she went.
Understand that she had already made Canadian national teams in basketball, flat-water kayaking and white-water kayaking. She had also tried rock climbing, ice climbing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, water skiing, wind surfing and, presumably, tightrope walking and chimney sweeping.
And she fell in love with cycling. A few months later, she was on the Canadian national road racing team.
One day, when Shaw was watching television with some friends, a triathlon was part of one of those weekend sports magazines. Her friends' eyes--and imaginations--caught fire.
"I'd been known to do wild and crazy things," she said. "They thought I'd be great at the triathlon."
Of course, she tried it. After all, she had not tried it before, and she would only live once.
In triathlon circles, Shaw is best known for a race she won--but then didn't win. It was The World's Toughest Triathlon a year ago in Lake Tahoe, and she seemingly won by 34 minutes to earn the $10,000 first prize.
However, there was one traffic light on the cycling portion of the race. She stopped, waited for traffic to pass and then took off.
Race officials, declaring she had left five seconds before the light changed, disqualified her. She now laughs at paying the stiffest "fine" in history for running a red light.
Jacqueline Shaw really loves this crazy sport, and all of its lonely hours of training and brutal hours of competition. In fact, she has heard of something called The Survival of the Fittest, which apparently involves falling off mountains and white-water kayaking and climbing up mountains and what difference does it make what else. She does not know where it is--or when--but she knows she hasn't tried it yet. And, therefore, must.
"I guess," she mused, "I'm a wee bit different than normal women my age."
Wrong, Jacqueline. You--and your colleagues--are a whole lot different than most people. Any age.