By Karen Billing
When Carmel Valley triathlete Andi Neugarten isn’t pouring everything she has into training to endure grueling Ironman and half-Ironman distance races, she is putting “blood, sweat and tears” into her company Alii Lifestyle, a line of feminine and fashionable athletic wear.
Her gear is sold online and in 40 stores across the country, including locally at Her Revolution in Solana Beach and Nitro in Encinitas. A percentage of the sales goes to support the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a cause close to Neugarten’s heart.
One of her main sources of motivation to even try a triathlon was watching a man without legs compete in CAF’s San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Neugarten was in tears watching him power up a hill.
“It was inspiring to see. It made me think, ‘If he can do it, there’s nothing I can’t do,’” she said.
In March, Neugarten completed her second full Ironman triathlon (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride capped by a 26.2-mile marathon) at the Asia Pacific Championship in Melbourne.
On July 13, Neugarten finished fourth in the female 45-49 age group at the Vineman Ironman 70.3. The race is a half-Ironman, breaking down to a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run in Sonoma County.
Her finish qualified her for the 70.3 Ironman World Championships in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada in September. But Neugarten has decided she will not be racing, as the event falls at the same time as this year’s Interbike convention in Las Vegas, the largest exhibition in the country for the cycling industry.
“My focus this year is on building my business,” Neugarten said. “I’m very excited for this coming season, I think this is going to be a big season for us.”
A busy single mom of two college-age children, Neugarten is a native of South Africa.
After playing competitive tennis for most of her youth, she picked up running around age 16. A family friend invited her on a 6-mile run that she was sure she could not finish — but she did.
Then she ran a half marathon, which rolled into her first marathon at age 23. Soon enough, the girl who wasn’t sure she could do 6 miles was completing the Comrades Ultra Marathon, run for 56.1 miles between the capital of the Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa and the coastal city of Durban.
“Once you run it once, you get hooked,” Neugarten said of the race, which switches directions every year, changing from an uphill to downhill course and back.
Neugarten has run the challenging Comrades race four times, as well as nearly 100 marathons.
In 2002, she moved to San Diego and those 26.2 miles started to lose their appeal.
“I got bored with running marathons. It wasn’t inspiring or motivating me, so I decided I needed a new challenge,” Neugarten said.
She found it in the triathlon, undeterred by the fact that she had no experience swimming competitively or racing a bike.
She joined a masters swim program and hopped off the spin class bike and onto a real bike — honing her cycling skills by completing the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge, a 620-mile ride from San Francisco to San Diego.