Lydia Heilmann loves a challenge. And the 37-year-old Fairfield resident is about to get one. She heads to her native United Kingdom this month for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in London, where she will compete in the sprint triathlon category with her U.S. teammates (she became a citizen in 2007), an honor she's achieved through top-place finishes in local and regional races.
"I've always been competitive," she said. "It doesn't really matter what it is -- whether it's doing the best in an exam or racing -- I think it's something that's just inside of you."
Of course, it helps that her husband, Per Heilmann, gives her both support and encouragement. The pair met in 1998 while working on their MBAs in Cambridge, England. He came back to the states after graduation and the couple had a long-distance romance. But that came to an end in 2001 when Lydia moved to New York City. They married in 2005. "He's very proud of me," she said of her athletic accomplishments. In fact, she started doing triathlons in 2004 after Per decided to take them on in lieu of rugby, a sport he'd played for years.
But serious training is serious business and something Heilmann does her best to juggle along with being a wife and mom to Lars, 5, and Tor, 3. She also freelances as a Dutch translator, working from home on materials ranging from legal and medical documents to novels. Heilmann spoke of her accomplishments during a recent question-and-answer interview.
Q: Have you always been an athlete?
A: Yes. I played field hockey and netball (an English sport derived from early versions of basketball) in England. And I was always a runner. I just took part in whatever sport was going on in school. I really got into racing in 2000. I did two marathons that year. The main thing is, I always need a challenge. I do (triathlons) now. Really long-distance running doesn't suit my body type and with the triathlons, you do three different sports, so it's a total body workout. Instead of just running every day and pounding on those joints, you're mixing it up.
Q: You've said you're highly competitive. But is it ever hard to maintain that mentality and continue to push yourself?
A: Definitely the physical side of training isn't the only thing. The mental side of it is huge and that's where my yoga comes in. I'm a yoga teacher and really, really into Kundalini yoga. The breath work really helps you with endurance and gives you the ability to push through the hard points of a race and keep your focus. It's a balance between effort and ease, which is very mental and really comes from the yoga.
Q: So what's next after the world championships?
A: Coming first over the finish line is something that I thought I would never achieve, so it was great to start winning the local, and now the more regional, races. But there's only so far you can go. There's always somebody faster and always somebody who's going to beat you and you can really get caught in this track. I don't want to start getting stressed out about it -- having to maintain that level and win. My family is more important to me and there are so many other things I want to do, like playing my cello and starting to translate again.
Q:You play the cello?
A: I play in the Fairfield University Orchestra, on and off, between the kids. I am really just going back to it in September. I played in the Manhattan Lawyers' Orchestra, but that was before we had kids. I grew up in Salisbury and I really enjoyed the historic nature of the area, the cathedral and Stonehenge. I was a musician and used to sing in the choirs at the cathedral. It's something I miss now.
Clothing and accessories provided by Ann Taylor, 97 Main St., Westport; hair and makeup by the Christopher Noland Salon & Beauty Spa, 124 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich; Ewa Marcinczyk, stylist; Zuzana Mizerova, makeup. Cover and inside model photographs taken at Weir Farm National Historic Site, 735 Nod Hill Road, Wilton.