Newby-Fraser, Paula

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Paula Newby-Fraser


Zimbabwean triathlete

Paula Newby-Fraser is an eight-time Ironman Triathlon winner, and has won 23 Ironman Championships, more than twice the number won by the next-greatest triathlon champions, Mark Allen, Erin Baker, and Dave Scott. The Los Angeles Times and ABC's "Wide World of Sports" have hailed Newby-Fraser as "The Greatest All-Around Female Athlete in the World."

"Competing Touched a Spark in Me"

Newby-Fraser was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1962. She was the younger of two children. Her father, a wealthy industrialist, moved the family to South Africa when Newby-Fraser was still young; he owned a large paint factory there. Newby-Fraser grew up with wealth and privilege, and as a child took ballet lessons and swimming classes. She showed a talent for swimming early, winning a South African national ranking while she was still in high school.

In college, Newby-Fraser decided to take a break from sports, and as a consequence, gained quite a bit of weight. However, she felt she needed a break from her intense training, and was glad to spend time with her friends, studying and relaxing. After graduating in 1984, Newby-Fraser began working full-time. She decided to lose the weight she had gained, and began running, talking aerobics classes, and lifting weights. At the end of that year, she heard about a triathlon that was going to be held in her hometown. This event, which combines swimming, bicycling, and running, is a true test of endurance. A full-length, or "Ironman," triathlon includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a full running marathon26.2 milesall in one day. The triathlon she heard about was almost full-length, and the winners would go to Hawaii to compete in that year's Ironman Triathlon.

Newby-Fraser and her boyfriend went to watch the competition. Her initial reaction was that it was a ridiculous lous thing to do. However, her boyfriend convinced her to give the event a try in the following year, and they bought bicycles and began training. Eight weeks after buying the bicycle, Newby-Fraser entered her first triathlon. She not only finished, but won, setting a new women's record for the course. She also finished among the top 10 athletes, male or female. Three months later, she won the women's division of the South African Triathlon, and won a free trip to Hawaii to compete in the famed Ironman Triathlon there. She told Judith P. Josephson in Children's Digest, "Competing touched a spark in me that had not been there for several years. It felt like coming home."

Newby-Fraser did not train very hard for this event. She had never even bicycled 112 miles in a week, let alone in a day, and she had never run a marathon. Her plan was simply to finish the race and learn from the experience. When she arrived in Hawaii and began doing training runs there, she ran into unforeseen difficulties. She had trouble with the heat and with the sunburn she built up from being out all day. However, she persisted, and came in third in the world-class race.

Becomes a Professional Triathlete

Realizing that she was only five or six minutes behind the winner, Newby-Fraser knew that if she trained harder, she could win the event. She also noted that the winners of the race were professional athletes who could make a living from their sport. After talking it over with her parents, she moved to southern California and hit the racing circuit. In her first year of competition, she won $25,000.

In California, Newby-Fraser began working with trainer Paul Huddle, who taught her how to train harder. In the 1986 Hawaii Ironman, she came in second, behind Patricia Puntous. Puntous was later disqualified because she had drafted during the bicycle portion of the race, and Newby-Fraser was declared the winner.

In 1987, Newby-Fraser came in third in the Hawaii Ironman. For the next eight years, though, she won the women's Hawaii Ironman seven times, missing first place only in 1995, and broke records in the bicycle and marathon portions of the course. She also set a world record time of 8:50:24, which is still unbroken. In 1993, despite having taken six months off to heal a stress fracture in her ankle, she won again.

She won the Hawaii Ironman again in 1994, and said that the 1995 competition would be her last. As she approached the finish line in 1995, she collapsed 200 feet away. Slowly and painfully, she dragged herself to the finish, crossing the line 22 minutes later. Even with that painful delay, she still came in fourth. In 1996, Newby-Fraser came back to the Hawaii Ironman, finishing first with a time of 9:06:40, a great end to her Hawaii Iron-man career.

"Running Is My Passion"

In 1997, Newby-Fraser began running ultramarathons, races of 50 km or more. In the Los Angeles Daily News, she told Ronni Ross, "Running is my passion, my favorite of the three sports. You always have to come back to what you love to do, what motivates you and drives you." She noted that the sport of triathlon had become increasingly commercialized: "There's the money, the politics, it's [now] an Olympic sport." She said that she had recently worked as part of the support crew for her fiancee, Paul Huddle, while he ran the famed Western States 100, a 100-mile endurance race that is run over trails. "At Western States," she said, "People were not there for the recognition or money; they were there for the pure challenge of it." The purity of the event was attractive to Newby-Fraser. She entered the Ridgecrest High Desert 50K in April of 1997, and won, setting a course record of 4 hours and 6 minutes. Although she won, she said she still had a lot to learn about running ultras. "I'm getting a real appreciation and a good deal of humility out there," she told Ross.

Newby-Fraser continued to compete in Ironman Triathlons, and by 2002 had won 23 in all. In that year, she won the Ironman Japan competition at the age of 39, making her the oldest person ever to win an Ironman. Realizing that she could not continue competing and winning forever, Newby-Fraser branched out into other areas of her sport that were not as physically demanding. With John Howard and John Duke, Newby-Fraser founded the Multi Sport School of Champions in 1989. In 2000, Newby-Fraser and Duke joined with the coaching team of Paul Huddle and Roch Frey to form, which provides individualized training and also runs training camps for triathletes.


1962Born in Harare, Zimbabwe
1976-80In high school, competes as a nationally ranked South Africanswimmer; also dances
1980-84Attends college; does not participate in sports
1985Enters and wins her first triathlon; wins South African national Ironman; comes in third in Hawaii Ironman
1985-presentCompetes as professional triathlete
1987After winning eight Hawaii Ironman titles, begins running ultramarathons
1989Founds Multi-Sport School of Champions

"A Self-Driven Sport"

Newby-Fraser told Josephson that an important part of being a world-class triathlete is self-discipline and motivation. "It's a self-driven sport. Triathletes spend many hours alone. If I'm going to stay on top of the sport, I need to get out of bed and do the training. It's up to me." She also told Ken McAlpine in Runner's World that it's also important to balance intense effort with recovery time: "Before you become injured or miserable or burned out, take a break. When you come back, you'll be fresh and eager to train. You have to learn to read yourself, to distinguish real exhaustion from just plain laziness. I take days off all the time. Everyone needs that."


Address: c/o, P.O. Box 235150, Encinitas, CA 92023-5150. Fax: 760-943-7077. Phone: 760-635-1795. Online:

Awards and Accomplishments

1985Wins South African Triathlon
1985Third in Hawaii Ironman
1986Wins Hawaii Ironman
1987Third in Hawaii Ironman
1988Wins Hawaii Ironman
1989Wins Hawaii Ironman
1990Women's Sports Foundation Professional Athlete of the Year
1991Wins Hawaii Ironman
1992Wins Hawaii Ironman
1993Wins Hawaii Ironman
1994Wins Hawaii Ironman
1996Wins Hawaii Ironman
1996-200223 Ironman Triathlon Career Wins
1999Triathlete Magazine's Greatest Triathlete in History


(With John M. Mora) Paula Newby-Fraser's Peak Fitness for Women, Human Kinetics, 1995.



"Paula Newby-Fraser," Great Women in Sports, Visible Ink Press, 1996.


Beck, Martin, "Training Camp," Los Angeles Times (March 7, 2001): D11.

Hilgers, Laura, "Out of the Slammer and Into the Swim," Sports Illustrated (November 4, 1991): 7.

Josephson, Judith P., "Paula Newby-Fraser," Children's Digest (September, 1995): 15.

McAlpine, Ken, "Tips From the Top," Runner's World (June, 1991): 46.

Ross, Ronni, "Pain Plan: Out of Triathlon, Into Ultra-marathon Fire," Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), (December 18, 1997): S10.

"Van Lierde, Newby-Fraser Bag Wins," Buffalo News (October 27, 1996): C12.

Other (January 20, 2003).

"Newby-Fraser Wins Ironman Japan for 23rd Career Ironman Win," Triathlete Magazine, (January 20, 2003).

Sketch by Kelly Winters