Washington Post Interview

The Chat
Monday, November 22, 2004; Page D2

Alexandra Paul no longer wears swimsuits to work, but Paul, Lt. Stephanie Holden of “Baywatch” fame, can’t stay out of the water. Paul, whose “10 Attitudes” will be released on DVD tomorrow, completed an Ironman Triathlon in 1997, finished fifth (out of six) in the Bonaire EcoSwim 10K race earlier this month and hopes to complete a 10-mile swim in the future.

What made you want to complete an Ironman Triathlon?

I had always wanted to do something like that, because I’m not a sprinter and I’m not particularly graceful but I have a lot of discipline. So I always knew that I would be interested in endurance sports.

That’s kind of extreme.

I’m a very extreme person. I was always a good swimmer, and [World Ironman organizers] actually saw I swam a swimming leg on a fundraising triathlon, and they asked if I was interested in doing it. So I jumped at the chance. Normally you have to qualify; I was invited in exchange for doing publicity for the race. I took nine months off from acting to train for it.

What was the training like?

Intense. . . . . I had never run a marathon when I first started training for the Ironman, and I hadn’t been on a bike, ridden more than a mile on a bike, since I was a teenager. So I just had to focus completely on training. My agent said to me, “Go for it, Alexandra, because there’s more to life than Hollywood,” and there is.

You seem to be focusing on swimming events now.

Out of necessity. I was training for a marathon last year and I hurt my knee; I just had surgery [two weeks ago]. Out of necessity, I’ve decided to train for a swim competition.

Do you enjoy endurance swimming?

I love swimming, I think it fits my personality. A lot of people think it’s boring to have to swim so long in training, but I really like it. I don’t get bored easily. I think my training is a way to relax, ironically, and to sort of be by myself. I train alone, too. My sports of choice have always been solitary sports — running, swimming, triathlon. I think I’ve always preferred to adhere to my own schedule.

These endurance sports seem to be gaining in popularity. Why is that?

We as Americans, our lives get easier and easier. Certainly people have stress, but as we get physically less challenged, because everything gets more automated and food becomes less natural and we get further and further away from nature, it’s a way to get back to our more primitive senses and really challenge ourselves. . . . Maybe we want to torture ourselves, because we live physically easier lives.

Do you ever have difficulty explaining why anyone would want to suffer for 13 hours?

Actually, I don’t consider it suffering. Everyone else considers it suffering, but I consider it character building. You become more aware of your emotions, and that makes life more exciting. It’s the opposite of dulling your senses; your senses are more acute. . . . You are suffering for part of it, but in the whole it’s worth it. I consider suffering what I have to do now, which is sit on the couch for a month. To me, that’s suffering.

Can you explain what goes through your mind when you’re approaching the third hour of continuous swimming?

Well, actually that’s the best hour, I think, because you know you’re almost done. I’d never entered a pure swim race before, and so I was nervous [before the 10K swim], because I didn’t know how I would do with a three-hour race physically. So I started off very easy and swam comfortably the entire way. Next race I do, I’ll have more of a sense of how my body can perform.

Your husband, he’s a . . .

He’s a triathlon coach. So we still have triathlon in the house; we have probably six bikes downstairs, and swim gear, and my husband coaches every day, almost.

Does this make him kind of an intense person?

He’s much, more relaxed than I. I need to get some of his relaxation. One of the jobs of a coach is to hold back some athletes that might overtrain, like me. He actually gave me my training program for Bonaire. He’s a much more moderate person than I, which works out great. . . . One of the other reasons why I like to train alone is I’m not incredibly competitive with other people. It’s sort of like the joy of the journey for me instead of how fast can I get to the end. . . . You know, one of the great things about sports and why I really feel that it gives a balance to my life in Hollywood is that if you train hard for an event you will finish that event, barring an act of God. But if you train hard in acting it doesn’t mean you’ll get hired, ever. You could be a fabulous actor and never get hired, or get hired much, much less than a less talented actor. But you have more control over your sports life — what you put into it you tend to get out of it. Whereas acting, there’s so much left to chance.

Any other sports goals out there besides the 10-mile swim?

No, not right now. I have to get my knee set, so my goal right now is to be the opposite of who I normally am, which is, “Go, go, go.” The goal is to stay off my knee and let it heal for the greater good of my athletic career.

— Dan Steinberg

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