PEORIA. Another unheralded or slightly older than average athlete has fared unexpectedly well in a sporting event. First there is praise and inspiration, and then, as always, the questions begin.
Shevaun Fennell, a Masters competitor, placed third in the Elite field at the recent Evergreen Triathlon, beating athletes she is old enough to have given birth to and taught how to bike and swim. Fennell is not an unknown triathlete, but was certainly not expected to place this high. Many found the performance an uplifting victory of the human spirit. But there are also doubters as to the legitimacy of it all.
“I’m a fan of Shev’s, I really am, but this seems like a bit much. She trains hard, for a girl, but placing this high in an elite field at her age would seem to require, you know, a little outside help,” said local wag and running legend Dan Gray, winking as he mimed someone taking pills and washing them down, then shooting something into their veins, then rapidly growing massive muscles. Local socialite and sometime 5k runner Amelia LaHood Couri-Joseph-Maloof Rashid agreed. “Did you see her calves? Like tree trunks. That ain’t just hill workouts. I mean, I’ve been to her house, so I’ve gone through her medicine cabinet. Who still takes non-prescribed ‘pre-natal vitamins’ six or seven years after giving birth?” Thus, like recent Olympic qualifier Dara Torres in swimming, and the 40 year-old guy in the pole vault, Ms. Fennell has to justify her performance rather than bask in it.
These kinds of accusations are par for the course in today’s world of endurance sports. Running, cycling, and swimming are all notoriously beset by illicit substance use, making triathletes triply suspect. Nevertheless, Ms. Fennell has been visibly angered by the insinuations. Caught outside her plush, isolated home overlooking a verdant hillside, the visibly harried Ms. Fennell, allegedly rushing her children to school, denied any wrongdoing. “Swimming, biking, and running is a break from what I do the rest of the day,” she snapped, “and the entire rest of my day, like this” she said, wiping one child’s nose with her right hand while wrestling the other child into a car seat with the left, “is basically cross-training. You try it.” Ms. Fennell then gulped down a breakfast of what appeared to be eight to ten chocolate-covered espresso beans and hopped on a bike to tow her SUV to school. “Saves gas money,” she grunted over her shoulder, disappearing into the 5 a.m. haze.
Later than day Ms. Fennell held a press conference at the good McDonald’s on North University.
Ms. Fennell has one to many Monster energy drinks -- Undated
“You think I’m dirty?,” she bellowed, pounding her fist on the table and slamming the remain
der of a neon orange “Endurox” beverage. “You think I’m dirty? Test me any time, any place. I’ll freakin’ pee in this cup right here, right now, in front of all y’all – and I’ll drink the freakin’ pee if I fail!” “And if you want blood, you got it!” added Ms. Fennell, launching into an extended air guitar rendition of an Angus Young solo. ‘’Roid rage,” whispered several reporters knowingly to each other in high sing-songy voices.
Some are not waiting to pass judgment. Ms. Fennell’s high school mile-relay teammate Suzy Buckeye has returned her third-place district medal to the Ohio Scholastic Sports Association and says the other team members are weighing their options. “Shev was always, just, different. Like she always really wanted to win or something. And I always knew she’d stop at nothing to get what she wanted, like studying all the time just for a stupid math test, or talking to the guys on the boys track team, like, non-stop, even when they already had girlfriends. These latest accusations do not surprise me in the least, and I decline to be associated in the public mind with such a person.” Ms. Fennell attributed Ms. Buckeye’s comments to “sour grapes” and a “desperate need for attention,” noting that Ms. Buckeye has auditioned for no fewer than 11 “reality” television programs and writes letters to the editor of her local newspaper every week, often just to describe her own social life and likely whereabouts next weekend.
Ms. Fennell should, in the short run, be able to capitalize on her new success. Her only current sponsors are Monster energy drink and the Ginseng Institute of the Andes, but others are likely to come knocking quickly. Still, would-be sponsors are justifiably cautious about endurance athletes in general, especially those trying to crawl back to the start of the hill after going over.
So it goes. As the suns sets and I prepare to meet my journalist pals for some after-work suds at Sully’s, I see from my window Ms. Fennell herself, swimming a few miles against the current in the mighty Illinois river. Is she towing that barge, or just beating it? Is she the real deal, or is she using the Illinois to so toxify herself that no blood or urine test will ever be valid? Perhaps we’ll never know.