Lesbian athlete Andrea Ratkovic, of Norman, Oklahoma, nicknamed "The Rat", excels in the duathalon, which incorporates running and cycling. One of America's top female athletes used a series of minor misfortunes to build her career into something big.
She attended the University of Oklahoma on a full track scholarship, then became a physical education teacher for a middle school. That didn't work, since it's tough to maintain a training schedule while working a daily job.
She ran her first marathon, a grueling 26.1 mile run, in 1989. By 1995, she was rated Number Two in the country in women's marathon. But it cost her in over-training injuries: She needed surgery twice on her Achilles tendon.
That got into cycling as part of her long recuperation and rehabilitation. Her current bike, made by Javelin Bicycles of Little Rock, Ark., was developed by Scott Warren and John Cobb. A marvel of aerodynamic engineering and materials - its frame weighing only 2.5 pounds - was tested in a wind tunnel to improve its performance. Warren and Cobb built the bike and helped train three-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Though she'd lived in America's heartland since 1987, Andrea had never seen a tornado. So when she encountered her first funnel cloud in the midst of a bike ride in 1998, the professional athlete wasn't content ducking into a ditch. Instead, she decided to outride it.
With two miles left on her route, Andrea peddled furiously, blinded by the driving rain and spurred on by the tornado at her back. When she arrived safely home, she learned the tornado had hit just a few miles south of her Norman abode.
Andrea moved to triathlons because she knows she can win them, and that's where athletes can find the most sponsorship money. She went professional in 2000, snagging a few product endorsements, such as Adidas.
Dualthon is a tough sport - a typical race is a 3.1 mile run followed by a 20.3 mile bicycle race followed by another 3.1 mile run. Some are longer, though. World-class races can involve a 6.2 mile run, a 25 mile bike race and another 6.2 mile run. Triathlons add swimming.
She supports herself now by working as an Oklahoma City hospital radiographer, but she hopes for at least one major product endorsement to free her financially.