Here at 8,500 feet, a woman is dancing beside the road. She is wearing a multicolored wool cap and baggy blue-and-white-striped boxer shorts emblazoned with an enormous Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh. She has long mauve fingernails, which are entwined high above her head, cutting tight circles in the blue Colorado sky. Her arms are rigid, elbows locked. Her hips swivel. Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger go round and round.
The summer wind, sweeping up from the pan-flat Boulder Valley 3,000 feet below, makes the aspen leaves flicker in the bright sun. The boom box at Paula Newby-Fraser's feet throbs. "Stayin' alive, stayin' alive"—whump, whump, whump, whump—"Stayin' aliiiiiiiiiiiiive." Newby-Fraser high-steps with glee, feet crunching gravel, hands out in front now, throwing sharp punches to the beat. She says, "I love this stuff!"
The 10-mile run she has just finished, leading 24 beet-faced, gasping campers through a morning training session, hasn't bled a step from her strut. A few of the participants in the five-day Ironman School of Champions triathlon camp wearily try to keep pace with her, but soon Newby-Fraser is alone, sashaying back and forth beside the continental divide.
Alone is where the 35-year-old Newby-Fraser, perhaps the quintessential Ironwoman, has been for most of her career as an endurance athlete, though solitude is not something she especially enjoys. "The Zen isolation thing," says Newby-Fraser, "sucks." Whump, whump, strut, strut. "Hey! Who's coming on the afternoon run with me? We're going to do strides at the track!"
Dave Scott and Mark Allen each won six Hawaii Ironman triathlons before the grind of preparing for a 140.6-mile race wore them out. Newby-Fraser has won eight Hawaii Ironmans. And on Oct. 18 on the Big Island of Hawaii, she will cheerily bid for No. 9, armed, if you believe her, with the same who-gives-a-hula mind-set that marked her 1985 Ironman debut. Then, unknown and unprepared (she had never swum 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles or run a marathon), she placed third.
Why, at this point, should she care? "I've won so many races that winning doesn't matter anymore," she says crisply, in the teatime enunciation of her very proper upbringing in South Africa. "I'm just out here now to see what I can do."
This isn't conceit; it's logic. Over 12 years Newby-Fraser has won 21 of 26 Ironman races she has entered around the globe, and dozens of shorter races too. She swears she is phasing out of racing. Before the 1995 Hawaii Ironman she announced that that race would be her final one. Then, last spring, she won Ironman Australia in 9:08:22, her fastest time on that course.
When the 5'6", 117-pound Newby-Fraser stands next to the campers, their frames overwhelm her. "That somebody that small can swim, bike and run like she does is amazing," says Don Little, a triathlete from Prairie Village, Kans. "How in the hell does she do it?"
Her competitors often ask the same question. Karen Smyers, one of the few women to beat Newby-Fraser in an Ironman, remembers concocting a simple plan one year in Hawaii: Come out of the swim close, catch Newby-Fraser early in the bike, then cling to her like lint on Velcro. Smyers came out of the water a minute behind Newby-Fraser. "I went all out for 15 miles, and she was still pulling away from me," says Smyers, who is one of the most feared cyclists in her sport. "I was flabbergasted. Sometimes it seems like she races faster for 112 miles than she does for 40K."
Newby-Fraser has been an athlete almost since she could walk. Born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), and raised in Durban, South Africa, she swam competitively and danced ballet seriously enough to hate them both and quit at 16. For the next six years she pursued less rigorous interests—beaches, bars and boys—and probably would have continued doing so merrily had a friend not pointed out that she was getting fat. They started running together. Newby-Fraser discovered triathlon, won her first three races in South Africa and in 1985 entered the Ironman in Hawaii, where spectators blistered their fingertips riffling through the program in search of her name.