The Ultimate Athletes

Four Greenwich triathletes share what it takes to push through mental and physical pain to run, pedal and swim their way to the thrill of victory



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Born Athletes

None of the women were new to sports when they started seriously competing. Katha Diddel-Warren played varsity tennis and squash through high school and college. One summer, on break from Brown University, the New York City native joined her brother to lead bike tours across Europe. Through the years, she ran and biked to stay fit. Following her divorce five years ago, she signed up for a few charity rides and has been racing ever since, in everything from short 25-mile runs to the Pan-Mass Challenge, a 200-mile,  two-day bike-a-thon.

Last year, she returned to Falmouth, and competed in eight sprint and Olympic triathlons and three rides. Her plans for this summer again include Falmouth plus the Danskin Sprint Triathlon, the upcoming Jarden Westchester Triathlon, an Olympic distance event in Rye and a half Ironman, and the June Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon.

Karen Newman was always running with her two brothers in her childhood home of Syracuse, New York. “I just knew it was a gift from God. I’d run, climb trees, play football and kickball, ride horses. When I was little, I rode my bike to my cousin’s house five miles away.” In high school, Karen was a star on the track team, and often participated in charity swims and races around the family’s Vermont summer home. Her husband proposed to her while she was running the New York City Marathon in 1989.

In 2001, Karen focused her sights on the Triathlon World Championships. She enrolled in the Masters Swim program at Sportsplex in Stamford as part of a twenty-hour weekly regimen that had her out every day through the summer in preparation for the July qualifiers in Lake Placid. She knew she had to make the top four in her age group to qualify for Worlds.

“We were finishing in the Olympic Stadium, and we’re coming around the track, and I come up to a woman and she’s fourth. I can hear my husband yell, ‘Ruuun!’ It was a sprint to the finish and I beat her by maybe a foot. I was jumping and hugging and crying. It was unbelievable. There are happy days in your life — when you get married and have children. This was one of my happiest. Then we went to Edmonton (Canada) for the Worlds. We had the parade of nations and fireworks. Just like the Olympics. I was crying, I was so proud.”

Karen came in twelfth, and has since been back to the World Championships four more times. “That’s the drug. There is nothing like it. Then I just got better and better. I just started winning tons of these races. And almost every race I entered, I won, and not just for my age. I got faster. I got faster and faster.”

Three months after Karen’s breast cancer diagnosis in March 2008, she competed in the World Championships in Vancouver. Three months later, while in chemotherapy, she competed in the Jarden Westchester (Darcy, Katha and Karen Brown were also there) and finished fourth in her age group, qualifying for this month’s National Championships in Alabama. But she will not be there. Though she is cancer-free, and her hair has grown back dark and curly, she will instead race to raise money for cancer charities, including the Alliance For Cancer Gene Therapy in Greenwich. “I’ll do some [sprint] triathlons in Vermont. I’m not out of it but I will focus my energies on having fun and giving back.”

Karen Brown started a little later than the others, as a college student in Boston, where she joined the Greater Boston Track Club. Running was her life then, filled with running workouts and Sunday races, from 5K to half-marathon distances. Ten years later, married with children, she moved to North Carolina, where she joined the Cardinal Track Club in Chapel Hill, and for two years, also took part in a Masters Swim program. “I got in the water the first day and swam a 2,400 [yards], which apparently is unheard of.”

It was during this period that Karen first came into casual contact with training triathletes. She met more after moving to Greenwich in 2002 as a single mom. But she continued to run, in spite of chronic leg injuries, until last summer, when she also raced in the Greenwich Cup (Sprint) Triathlon, the Madison Sprint Triathlon and the Darien ITPMan (Sprint) Triathlon.

For Darcy Ramsey, “the original tomboy,” her passion for sports began on the campus of Greenwich Country Day School, where her father was an English teacher. “We had the run of the entire campus,” says Darcy, a coach and trainer, and former state trooper. “Tennis courts, fields and streams, swimming pools and basketball courts. When all the other kids were off in safari in Africa or skiing in Aspen, we all went to the gym or the pool.”