Newby-Fraser, Paula (1962—)

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Newby-Fraser, Paula (1962—)

Zimbabwan-born American triathlete. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1962; daughter of Brian Newby-Fraser (a businessman) and Elizabeth Newby-Fraser (a psychologist); graduated from college in 1984.

Won the national Ironman Triathlon in the women's division, South Africa (1985); finished third in her first world-class Ironman race (1985); finished second in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, later named winner after first-place finisher was disqualified (1986); eight-time Ironman Triathlon world champion (1986, 1988, 1989, 1991–94, 1996); finished third in the Hawaii Ironman and the Ironman world championships (1987); four-time Ironman Japan champion (1988, 1990–92); four-time Nice International Triathlon champion (1989–92); named Greatest All-Around Female Athlete in the World by "Wide World of Sports" and the Los Angeles Times (1989); named Professional Athlete of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation and Female Pro Athlete of the Decade by the Los Angeles Times (1990); three-time Ironman Europe champion (1992, 1994, 1995); three-time Ironman Lanzarote champion (1994, 1995, 1997); Ironman Canada champion (1996); two-time Ironman Australia champion (1996, 1997); Ironman South Africa champion (2000); inducted into Breitbard Hall of Fame at Hall of Champions Sports Museum (2000).

Paula Newby-Fraser's legendary endurance made her the dominant force in the women's field of Ironman Triathlon events from 1988 through the 1990s. Called the "greatest all-around female athlete in the world," "the Queen of Multisport" and "the Empress of Endurance," she was born to wealthy parents in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1962. The family moved to Durban, South Africa, where her father owned a large industrial paint company, when she was still a child. In Durban, she learned ballet and took swimming lessons, proving herself such an excellent swimmer that she earned a national ranking while still in high school. By the time she reached college, however, she had had enough of athletics, and did not take them up again until she was working full-time after her college graduation in 1984. Wanting to lose weight, Newby-Fraser started jogging. Soon, she added aerobics and weight-lifting to her exercise regimen. She became aware of triathlons, grueling competitions that include swimming, bike riding, and running. When an Ironman triathlon, one of the most important of the year, was held in her hometown, Newby-Fraser watched the race but did not participate. It was not long, however, before she and her boyfriend bought bikes and began riding and running each day. Just two months after she purchased her bike, in January 1985, she entered her first triathlon. Not only did she win this race, she also set a new women's course record, and was one of the top ten finishers. Three months later, she won the national Ironman Triathlon in the women's division and earned a free trip to Hawaii to compete in the annual Ironman Triathlon.

Newby-Fraser trained casually for this competition, which consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile run, hoping just to be able to complete it. She had never biked 112 miles in one week, let alone in one day, and had never run a marathon of any kind. In addition, when she got to Hawaii she found the heat oppressive. Much to her surprise, she nonetheless finished third. Having observed the competition in her first-ever world-class Ironman race, she quickly determined that she could win the event with the proper training. Newby-Fraser then moved to southern California and began training and competing in earnest, winning $25,000 in her first year of American triathlon competition.

In California, she met triathlete Paul Huddle, who helped her to increase her training load and has since become her longtime companion. The hard work paid off in 1986, when she finished second in that year's Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, behind Patricia Puntous . Puntous was later disqualified for drafting on her bike, and Newby-Fraser was named the winner. She won $17,000 in prize money and gathered numerous endorsement contracts and sponsorships. The following year, she placed third in both the Hawaii Ironman and the Ironman world championships. After that, Newby-Fraser dominated the competition, and over the next eight years she won the women's Hawaii Ironman Triathlon seven times, breaking records in the bike course and the marathon. In 1992, she set a women's course record of 8:55:28 that remained unbroken for years. The next year, she won the race again, even after having lost six months of training due to a stress fracture to her ankle. Through 1995 she won 21 major ultra-distance races. Her domination in the field led to her being named Professional Athlete of the Year in 1990 by the Women's Sports Foundation. As her winning streak continued, she garnered book offers and became an advocate for women's fitness.

In 1994, after she won her seventh Hawaii Ironman competition, Newby-Fraser announced that the 1995 Hawaii Ironman event would be her last. After initially leading in that race, she collapsed from dehydration and exhaustion 200 feet from the finish line. In a dramatic finish, 22 minutes later she dragged herself over the line, and into fourth place. Despite her stated goal of retirement, Newby-Fraser has continued to compete in triathlons, amassing 23 Ironman world championships by the year 2000. One of these was the first-ever Ironman South Africa in 2000, for which she returned to her childhood home and handily beat the competition while her parents watched. Now a U.S. citizen who lives and trains in Encinitas, California, she also runs a business that makes athletic apparel for women and has published two books on fitness, Cross-Training: The Complete Training Guide for All Sports (with Gordon Bakoulis Bloch, 1992) and Paula Newby-Fraser's Peak Fitness for Women (with John M. Mora, 1995). Named one of the top five professional female athletes of the last 25 years by the U.S. Sports Academy, CNN and USA Today in 1997, Newby-Fraser was inducted into the Breitbard Hall of Fame of the San Diego Hall of Champions in February 2000.


Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont