Bethany Handley has only lived in Oklahoma City for 11 months, but already she's become an ambassador, of sorts, for her new home. Not only did she represent Oklahoma recently at the Best of the U.S. Amateur Triathlete Championship in California; she won it.
In besting the field " by almost two full minutes " that included one elite qualifier from each of the 50 states, Handley further established herself as one of the top amateur triathletes in the country. She was already the defending national champion in the 25-29 age group for the Olympic Distance Triathlon.
"This event is as good as it gets " representing the best of the best in amateur triathletes," said Jerry MacNeil, co-founder of the Best of the U.S. "For Bethany to perform the way she did, I believe proves she is ready to move on to the next level."
A few days after capturing her latest and most distinguished title on Sept. 27, Handley officially turned pro and launched the next phase of her competitive career at the Toyota U.S. Open Triathlon. And while it did not turn out to be a memorable debut in terms of success, the 28-year-old Tennessee native is excited about what the future holds.
"This was my goal from the beginning: to eventually turn pro and compete at the highest level," said Handley. "I wasn't sure how long the process would take, but I knew I eventually wanted to do (International Triathlon Union) races."
There was a time when she thought her competitive days were over.
After spending much of her life competing in cross country, track and swimming " including a four-year stint on the University of Tennessee swim team " Handley took a teaching job in China that put her athletic career on indefinite hold.
"I never really thought I'd be competing again after college, especially after I moved to China. I just kind of figured that was a closed chapter in my life," she said.
But once she returned to the United States, Handley found the competitive fire still burned after her brother talked her into running a Thanksgiving Day marathon in 2006. She won the race that day and soon after, decided to start training again.
"It's been a blast " the whole process and journey of my time back competing," she said.
In October 2007, Handley began her "comeback" and has really spent the last year-and-a-half working full-time at become an elite triathlete. Of course, full-time is a relative term, considering Handley spends her days teaching English as a second language to international students locally at Southern Nazarene University.
On top of that, she is also married. And that's how she ended up in Oklahoma City " because her husband, Stephen, is studying to be a medical physicist at the University of Oklahoma.
"I have enjoyed Oklahoma City so much. I'm really thankful to be here. Everyone has been so supportive, especially my family " but also local people at my work, my boss and people like Steve Schlegel at Schlegel Bicycles," said Handley. "I've been really blessed."
While Handley was never really into cycling before, she proved a quick study and has turned it into one of her strengths although she is a veteran of swimming and running.
"For me, all three of the events " the swimming, biking and running " complement each other. Training in all three has definitely made me a better overall athlete," said Handley, who squeezes in as much training time as she can after school and on weekends.
However, now that she has opted to take her game to the next level and compete on the pro circuit, she will probably have to be even more resourceful in how she trains and prepares for future events.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge finding ways to train more effectively in order to successfully compete as a pro," she said. "I got a taste of what the competition is going to be like in my first pro race. Even though I did not do very well, it was a great experience. I am definitely looking forward to what the future holds."
"Jay C. Upchurch