Former skater takes shot at cycling fame
First in an occasional series on Olympics hopefuls with Tucson ties.
A decade ago, Kathryn Bertine was lost in the middle of a dream’s falling mist.
She was a professional figure skater for Hollywood on Ice’s South America tour in an obscure Andean village. It had all started at age 5 with visions of sequins and glory: Ice Capades, Olympics maybe, the sparkling whirl of greatness.
But in the Andes, she was as far away from her hometown of Bronxville, N.Y., as she could be – an athlete disguised as a showgirl. The locals in a small “arena of the absurd” decided that they would fill faulty holes in the surface with bags of ice from the supermercado.
The audience howled and Bertine, now 32, later wrote, “We went down one after another in a big pile of limbs, feathers and jewels . . .”
She wrote about the incident in her 2003 autobiography, “All the Sundays Yet to Come,” a slightly earthy chronicle of disillusionment, powerful ideals, a battle against anorexia and true grit.
Bertine, who has a master’s degree in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona, lives in Tucson now. She said she has been down more times than she likes to recall, but has never stayed there.
She had an Ice Capades contract but Rubert Murdoch bought the once-popular show before she could start and cancelled the show to avoid bankruptcy.
She retired from pro skating after two years and enjoyed moderately successful years as a pro triathlete, including two Hawaii Ironman races.
With the book, she was the youngest author at 25 for Little, Brown and Company publishers.
Fast forward to Arizona road cycling. Bertine is the 2007 women’s state road race and time trial champion in her rookie year.
There’s much more.
Bertine believes she can make the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a cyclist.
From a ridiculous costume on ice to the grandest review of them all. Nothing less.
“I am an athlete,” she wrote in her book, and her mantra is ‘it’s doable.’
“Closed doors never matter, just open ones . . .” she says.
She keeps knocking. She said, “Hold on, life will do what it pleases.” But she has this habit of tweaking things.
Tucson pro athletes turned coaches Jimmy Riccitello and Gord Fraser are believers.
Riccitello, who was a world- class triathlete, helped Bertine begin her cycling effort.
Fraser, a recently retired national cycling perennial contender and Canadian champion, hopes to help her to the highest cycling level.
“Based on her physical testing, it is no surprise she has been as good as she is,” Riccitello said. “I could see her potential when riding with her in the past. She’s a driven person and completely open to coaching.”
Another experience as a writer boosted Bertine.
ESPN.com opened a door several years ago, allowing her a freelance writing license.
The editors later saw a larger vision, and it was downright Olympian.
The editors wanted to take a “not so great athlete,” Bertine said, and have her try out for an Olympic sport. The goal, she adds, was to see, “how hard can it be?”
She had the chutzpa for putting herself on the line. At Colgate University, where she graduated with honors, she did skating demos at the halftime of hockey games and was the fifth person – “the engine” – on the women’s rowing team.
She has written seven installments for ESPN’s E-Ticket on her attempt to qualify for an Olympics development team in the relatively obscure sport.
Adventurous tryouts came: the pentathlon (she just missed in the 3K run), team handball (“best geared toward powerful, brick house bodies”), track cycling (“I’m not a sprinter”) and road cycling, always the best part of her triathlon sequence.
Riccitello’s reference to physical testing came here at Canyon Ranch.
The result, as she wrote in an ESPN.com column, was that she had the lung capacity of two and a half women. Positively Armstrongish.
As a cyclist, Bertine had to make the July nationals by upgrading from Category 4 to 1 – the top nonprofessional level of cycling – in six months.
“A daunting task,” she said.
She did it with raw talent, will and energy and still believes an Olympic tryout spot is “doable.”
“As she gets stronger and better known, she has to learn cycling tactics,” Fraser said. “With more seasoning, there will be more and more results.
“She has plenty of talent and is not afraid of new challenges. There is a career place waiting for her.”
Bertine won her first race, with an air of misadventure.
“It was at Usery Pass,” she recalled. “I made four mistakes: I had my number pinned upside down, I brought water mix but no water, didn’t tighten my aerobars properly and, after finishing, the refs yelled at me for blocking traffic.
“I make a mistake, Gord said, ‘Don’t do that again.’ He’s been great. He has the kind of fighting instinct I have. What do I do if somebody bumps me on purpose? How do I counterbalance if somebody comes in from the side and fights me for position? I go through these drills.”
She said Gord doesn’t treat her as a female cyclist or a beginning cyclist, only “as a cyclist who wants to be the best.”
In addition to her cycling explosion and probably most rewarding, Bertine won last fall’s Tinfoilman Tucson Triathlon Series event.
“That was kind of neat,” said Bertine, who became a pro triathlete after her skating career ended. “I had been trying for nine years.”
All this came about when it was almost curtains for her athletic career.
She didn’t think she was washed up, but there is this thing about groceries. Making four figures a year while pet-sitting, baby-sitting, waitressing and substitute teaching to go with competing doesn’t cut it. She came back to Tucson after canceling her wedding in another relationship.
Stuff of heartbreak and more disillusionment.
“I wanted to go home,” she said of Tucson.
“I was thinking to myself, Time to get a ‘real job,’ ” Bertine said. “All I had was two bicycles and a beat-up truck.”
She has received rewarding feedback from the ESPN.com columns, not to mention marriage proposals, and ESPN will publish her second book in December.
Before she tackled cycling, her editors said, “If you keep trying and falling, we’re going to lose readers.” She was bewildered, they were shocked and it was, “Kathryn, you’re blowing our budget.”
“Talent?” Bertine asked. “I don’t know. My gift is determination. I’m not sure I possess the natural skill, but have always been envious of those who had (it). Am I an overachiever? I guess, and that’s good and bad. It’s ingrained in me.”
BOOKS BY KATHRYN BERTINE
‘All the Sundays yet to Come, a Skater’s Journey’
2003, Little, Brown and Co.
‘So You Want To Be An Olympian’
www.espn.com (search “Bertine”)
Feb. 3: Usery Pass Time Trial, Category 4
Feb. 16: Valley of the Sun Time Trial and Stage Race, Cat. 4
March 2: Copper Valley Stage Race, Cat. 4
March 3: Copper Valley Stage Race, Cat. 4
March 4: Copper Valley Stage Race, Cat. 4
March 5: Copper Valley Stage Race, Cat. 4
April 13: Tucson Bicycle Classic Time Trial, Cat. 3
April 15: Tucson Bicycle Classic General Cat., Category 3
Sept. 16: Arizona State Time Trial, Cat. 1-2
Oct. 13: Arizona State Road Race, Cat. 1-2