Endurance: Who Needs Pruny Toes?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1995

Endurance: Who Needs Pruny Toes?

Maddy Tomoen's splash-free dreams of becoming queen of the multiworld
By Martin Dugard

"I've gotten used to the lack of respect," says Maddy Tormoen, her voice betraying irritation. "But sometimes it really bothers me. I mean, swimming isn't the ultimate measure of an athlete." Tormoen, a muscular, free-spirited 33-year-old from Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the world's top-rated woman duathlete, known for trouncing opponents in the Europe-based run-bike-run endurance sport often referred to as "triathlon's poor stepchild." Her record, of course, is something she's proud of, but as her defensive remarks suggest, it doesn't carry much cachet in this country, where discussions about top women multisport athletes usually focus on seven-time Ironman winner Paula Newby-Fraser and other triathletes. "It's not like duathlon is a second-rate sport," argues Tormoen, whose best marathon time, 2:43, is 20 minutes faster than Newby-Fraser's.

Admittedly, Tormoen--who next month will return to Europe and the prestigious Powerman Duathlon Series to try to improve on last year's nearly flawless season, in which she won seven of eight events--sounds like she has something of a chip on her shoulder. But such frustration has been common among American duathletes since the sport vanished from these shores two years ago. Their problem is mainly a matter of perception. In Europe, Tormoen is a celebrity, asked to pose for snapshots and scribble autographs; at home, any recognition comes as a surprise.

Tormoen began running competitively in 1987, and in 1988 she qualified for the Olympic trials marathon. In 1990 she moved on to duathlon and quickly rose through the ranks; when the sport's U.S. death knell sounded in 1993, she chose to stick with it rather than head for a shot at greater home-country glory. "I decided that learning to swim would take too much time," says Tormoen, a teen counselor who plans to return to school for a Ph.D. in psychology next year.

Still, it's hard to get past the common perception that being good at three sports is more difficult than being good at two. Newby-Fraser, for one, doesn't cotton to the notion that Tormoen--or any duathlete--is a legitimate multisport athlete, let alone the world's best. "If I decided that duathlon was going to be my race," Newby-Fraser states flatly, "I'd do perfectly well. But I don't really care to try--they're just an odd bunch of athletes limited by their inability to swim."

For now, Tormoen is trying to ignore such criticism; her immediate goal is to win all eight Powerman races this summer. But as she packs for Europe, the word is out about her mysterious flirtation with the pool last winter. After two months of swimming laps, and without offering any comment, she quit. "As long as she doesn't swim, there'll be one very big question," says a longtime observer of endurance sports. "Is she a great multisport athlete? Or is she just great at something nobody gives a damn about?"

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