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ORANGE COUNTY ON THE GO

Trying Out for U.S Triathlon Team Has Its Own Rewards

Olympics: Newport Beach woman leaves law firm for demands of sport.

May 25, 2000|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jill Newman took a leap of faith in 1996, leaving a promising law career for the uncertainly of trying to win a spot on the 2000 U.S. Olympic triathlon team.

Saturday, Newman will go for her payoff at the U.S. Olympic trials in Dallas. Only two of 25 women will make the team that will represent the United States in Sydney in September.

Newman hopes to be one of them, but even if she isn't she says she has no regrets about quitting her high-paying job with a Newport Beach law firm.

"A lot of my friends are doing quite well financially," Newman said, "but they haven't seen the world and trained for possibly becoming an Olympian. It's a fantastic sport and the experiences that I've had the past four years, I wouldn't trade for a million dollars."

Still this wasn't the way Newman planned to spend her life after graduating from UC Davis' law school in 1994.

She had run track and cross-country as an undergraduate at Davis; in 1992 she won a conference title and finished 10th in the NCAA Division II championships in the 10,000 meters. Then she moved on to triathlon, a hobby she continued after landing her entry-level $70,000 job practicing business law in Newport Beach.

She loved the work, even if it meant more than occasional 80-hour weeks. Somehow she also found time to train and posted some impressive results, winning in 1995 the national triathlon title and the world duathlon (run-bike-run) title in the 25-29 age group.

That got Newman noticed and she was invited to join U.S. Triathlon's national resident team in Colorado Springs. It was tempting, even if the money wasn't.

"It was $400 a month, which really isn't much compared to an attorney's salary," Newman said, "but just the fact I could go to the training center and get fitness testing and really learn about the sport in a proper way sounded like something great to do.

"So I gave my firm two weeks' notice."

For a couple years after moving from Costa Mesa to Colorado Springs with her boyfriend, now husband, Dane Chalmers, Newman did some contract work for her law firm. But since 1998, she has been a full-time triathlete.

She just returned from six months in Australia, where, like many American triathletes, she took advantage of the southern hemisphere summer to train and race.

Australia is fertile ground for the triathlon; events are televised nearly every week and top triathletes are recognized on the street.

Newman rented a room about block from the beach, near Surfer's Paradise. It was also paradise for Newman, who was able to train with some of Australia's best triathletes.

And what she didn't know, didn't hurt her.

"Often I just went down to the beach and swam by myself in the ocean for about an hour," Newman said. "I thought it was safe because they had shark nets out. But little did I know that shark nets don't mean that it's entirely netted.

"I was unaware until a body surfer got his calf completely bitten off."

That stopped her solo swims, but if she makes the Olympic team, she will have to take more swims on the course in Sydney Harbor, where sharks are also known to frequent.

"You do wonder about it because of the fact that they are there and we are dressed up in our best seal costumes," Newman said, "But once the gun goes off if that's your focus, you are in trouble."

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