Iron will drives swift scientist

Carla Schubiger on her $13,000 Dimond “super bike” placed second overall in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in 2016. (Photo courtesy Carla Schubiger)

NEWPORT — A respected marine scientist at the top of her game has emerged as a front-runner in a different field, where it takes more than doctoral degrees and academic resolve to attain success.

Swiss-born Carla Schubiger is a world-class Ironman athlete who emerged on the international triathlon scene in 2016 after placing second overall in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Ironman competition is perhaps the most grueling individual event in sports, combining a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 22.6-mile marathon. Ironically, Schubiger, a big-animal veterinarian in Zurich, was never sports-minded until she came to the U.S. in 2013 to study shellfish diseases.

“I always felt like the fat girl,” confided Schubiger, who holds three Ph.Ds and is at the cutting edge of important research at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in South Beach. “They didn’t have sports in schools when I was growing up but I was always very competitive in everything else.”

Schubiger traveled widely as a young veterinarian in Switzerland, trudging through snow at night to deliver calves at remote Alpine farms. After seven years of around-the-clock work, she confessed to “compassion fatigue” but saw no way out.

“I was a woman in a male-dominated field, but in Switzerland changing careers is very discouraged,” she recalled, saying an unexpected opportunity to study in the U.S. changed the trajectory of her life.

At Washington State University, the hard-driving student began working out with a triathlete friend as a form of “stress relief.”

“I’m very disciplined when I like to do something,” said Schubirger, who quickly set a goal to become a “Top 5” finisher in an international marathon. “There is no magic sauce or one workout that will get you to your goal, but all those mini-steps will get you there eventually.”

Schubiger earned a “pro card” after her Arizona race, which waived the thousand-dollar registration fees for the two races she enters every year. Otherwise, it’s a “terribly expensive” sport with private coaches, air travel and high-tech “super bikes” that cost $13,000. She wears a Garmin watch that monitors heartbeat, laps and strokes.

“My bike is more expensive than my car,” she chuckled. “But I figure if I’m going to endure so much pain I want good gear that I can enjoy.”

There is no money for flashy clothing or nights out, or the comforts others seek. Schubiger credits her determination to embrace new challenges and reject discomfort as her winning strengths.

“I’m not the fastest or the strongest, but I can endure more pain than anybody else,” asserted Schubiger. “The person who can be uncomfortable the longest will actually win at the end.”

The 42-year-old athlete who said she would run a marathon at 30 and an Ironman by 40 is currently training for the 2019 Hawaii Ironman. Her next trial, she confided, is to enter the “Race Across America” bike race at age 50.

“It’s a 3,000-mile race where the clock starts and doesn’t stop until you finish,” she said, envisioning not the pain but the challenge.

“I’m getting better as I get older,” she said. “I use the energy from past experiences — especially the bad stuff — and make it positive. I say to myself, ‘I’ve been through that, and I can handle it without stopping.’”

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