Gina Pauline ’99 didn’t know what she was getting herself into. On the day of her first triathlon, she stood watching her fellow athletes prepping for the race.
That’s when it hit her.
“I’m realizing I’m out of my league here,” says Pauline, assistant professor of sports management at Syracuse University. “They’re taping power bars to their bike handles, and I’m still trying to get all my stuff out of my bag. … All of a sudden I hear ‘10 minutes till race starts.’ Now, I’m in a panic.”
The horn goes off and she swims for her life, emerging breathless.
Two miles into her bike ride, she falls, cutting herself. Still, she keeps going.
Winded and dehydrated, she runs what she describes as “the three hardest miles of my life.” At the finish line, she’s guided to a medical tent where the embedded gravel is removed from her legs.
And yet, she wanted to do it again.
“That experience taught me I still needed to learn a ton,” she says. Although she finished fifth in her age group and twelfth overall for women, she told herself she could do better: “I want to give this a try, but I’m going to do it right.”
She did three more triathlons that year, including a half ironman, in which she had the third-fastest swim time among all women (including pros). With each race, she improved.
“When I started in the sport, my goal was to go out there and have fun — which it still is — but all of a sudden I went from a goal of just finishing (the half ironman) to wanting to be competitive at it. I am always looking to do better now.”
Competing in a triathlon had been in the back of her mind since graduating from Binghamton with a psychology degree. But graduate school, a doctorate, marriage and three kids (a 6-year-old and 3-year-old twins) took precedence.
The idea resurfaced in 2010 when Pauline conducted a study on volunteers for the Ironman 70.3 Syracuse event. She loved the excitement, the energy, the people.
“I realized I needed to do this for myself.”
She eased back into exercise. Her 10-minute runs gradually increased to 2 hours and she returned to the water after 11 years. At Binghamton, Pauline (then Gina Bonante) was a Division II and III swimmer, earning three All-American honors in the 100 and 200 butterfly. Today, those strengths give her “the focus, competitive edge and time-management skills” she needs to compete.
Triathlons also have helped her professionally.
“It opened more opportunities for my students to gain experience in the industry — more research opportunities and a greater network. It also gives me a different understanding of the landscape of the industry … I can put the context of the event in perspective from my own personal experience.”
Pauline trains year-round, 9 to 11 hours a week in the off-season, 13 to 16 hours a week during race season. This year she’s more focused, more organized, and her workouts are more tailored.
“I have grown tremendously in the past year,” she says. “It’s a blast. I finish these races and it’s such an amazing feeling to see what you can accomplish.
“After having three kids, I didn’t think I would ever have the drive and passion to do something athletically, but I’ve found it. It brought back a lot of who I am. The sport really fits everything about me.”
– Carla Kucinski ‘02