How on earth does she do it? She’s a six-time winner of the Ironman World Championship. She’s the oldest woman to ever win an Ironman race and, on Sunday in Nice, there’s a good chance Natascha Badmann will be in the mix in the women’s race – all at 49 years young.
The “Swiss Miss” dominated the Ironman World Championship from 1998 to 2005, taking her six titles during that stretch. The only other person to win during that eight-year stretch was Canadian Lori Bowden, who took the titles in 1999 and 2003. (For those two wins Bowden rode the Swiss-made Cheetah frame favored by Badmann, giving the company an impressive winning record in Kona.) For years the script in Kona looked pretty much the same – Badmann would trail out of the water, ride through the field and come off the bike with a huge lead, then cruise through the run to take the title.
Like all great champions Badmann has an equal share of toughness, ability to overcome adversity and that uncanny drive that won’t let her ever give up. It was on a day when Badmann ended up struggling in Kona that I learned just how tough she was. In 2006 she had stomach issues during the run. At one point one of the spotters working with me on the Ironmanlive coverage called in on the radio to say that Badmann was throwing up on the side of the road. A few minutes later he called back.
“I don’t know how something that small could throw up that much,” he said as he watched Badmann start to run again.
An hour later I got another call. This was from a cameraman who had been sent to find the defending champ out on the run course.
“Natascha is on the side of the road dry heaving,” he reported in. “I don’t think she’s going to be able to finish.”
Hah. She got things together and got across the line in 10th.
A year later Badmann was ripping up the bike course in typical fashion along the Queen K when she hit a cone that was marking the course. The crash was brutal. She would require two surgeries on her shoulder. It took her years to be able to swim again.
Badmann refused to give up on the sport that had changed her life. A mother by the time she was 18, she was overweight and about as far from a world-class athlete as you could get when she met Toni Hasler in her early 20s. He would introduce her to the world of multisport and, over the next decade, she would become a world champion.
She got to Kona in 2008 and 2009, but wasn’t able to finish the race. It wasn’t until 2011 that she was finally able to get through an entire Ironman race – she finished second at Ironman Lanzarote that year. Then a year later she won Ironman South Africa and finished sixth in Kona. In December of that year, less than two months after that top finish in Hawaii, she turned 46.
In December Badmann will turn 50. She’s still good enough to be registered for Ironman France as a pro. Good enough? Right now she’s ranked 36th on the Kona Pro Rankings list. A top finish this weekend will move her way up in the standings, giving her a good shot at another pro start in Kona.
Which wouldn’t surprise any of us who have watched Badmann compete so long, and so well.