She has beaten invasive cancer, broken world records and overcome emotional and physical challenges. Karen Newman doesn’t just chase her dreams, she catches them
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Karen Newman sprinted from the water ahead of the pack, peeled off her wetsuit and made for her bike at the World Triathlon Championships in London last summer. When she grabbed it, the USA team member discovered that her bike had been tampered with and the bolts on the handlebars had been loosened. As she watched her fellow competitors speed away, along with her gold-medal dreams, Karen made a split-second decision. She would ride the treacherous, rain-slicked course with no hands. “I was the top American. I was in first place. I was not going to be defeated,” she says.
Pedaling as fast as she dared, and tapping the handlebars to keep the front wheel straight, Karen did finish the 40-kilometer course that day. “It took me a long time,” she says. “That hurt.” As a consolation prize, she bought a blue leather jacket at a chic London boutique. But she also made a promise to herself. Instead of letting the loss get her down, she would use it to spur herself on. Four weeks later, Karen went on to win four gold medals at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, setting a new world triathlon record in the process.
Wife, mother, athlete, cancer survivor—Karen Newman knows a thing or two about resilience and perseverance, of never taking no for an answer, of turning challenges into opportunities and always holding fast to one’s dream.
“As bad as London was—and it was bad—everything was redeemed in Utah,” she says over tea in the living room of her Old Greenwich home one afternoon this past December. When Karen says everything, she’s not just talking about winning medals and setting records. She’s talking about the serendipitous moments, the people and the kindness she met along the way. Like her seatmate on the flight from JFK, which was delayed by several hours, who insisted on driving her straight to the stadium in St. George so she wouldn’t miss the opening ceremonies. She’s talking about getting to the packed stadium just minutes before the ceremonies started and having seats suddenly open up in the front row. And, finally, she’s talking about the inconvenience of having to ride her bike to the pool for a practice swim because there was no shuttle bus available. “I was cycling on a four-lane highway. It was terrible. But…” and here she grins. “I realized my cable was about to go. I needed a bike shop fast.” She got off the highway at the next exit and what did she see? The Red Rocks Bike Shop. “If that hadn’t happened, it would have ruined my race,” she says.