By Arthur Lightbourn
Triathlete, artist and photographer Angelika Drake last week was feted as one of "San Diego's 10 Cool Women of 2010" by the Girls Scouts' San Diego-Imperial Council at its 10th annual "Cool Women" awards presentation.
Since it was created 10 years ago, the awards have honored 100 exceptional female artists, athletes, educators, entrepreneurs, scientists and community volunteers whose accomplishments make them inspirational role models for girls.
Born in a small Tyrol mountain village in Austria not far from where "The Sound of Music" was filmed, Angelika retains her Austrian accent coupled with the demeanor of a top fashion model which she and her identical twin sister, Barbara, were during a heady phase in their remarkable careers in Mexico City before eventually moving to San Diego.
As The Twin Team, Angelika and her sister, psychologist Barbara Warren, starting when they were 42 years old and after moving to San Diego, developed outstanding reputations as long distance endurance runners and medal-winning triathletes.
Both sisters set a record in the Race Across America in 2001, cycling 3,000 miles from Oregon to Florida.
In one of her greatest challenges, Angelika cycled from San Diego to San Pedro, 110 miles, swam the 23-mile Catalina Channel, ran 50 miles around the island, kayaked back 23 miles, then cycled 110 miles back to San Diego. Total: 320 miles, in 59 hours, with four hours sleep.
Tragically, in August, 2008, while competing in the Santa Barbara Triathlon, her sister Barbara crashed on her bike and was severely injured.
Angelika had not entered the race, but was waiting at the finish line, where she received the news that her sister had broken her neck. The injured Barbara was rushed to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital where she was diagnosed as being paralyzed from the mouth down and could breathe only on a ventilator.
There was no hope that she would recover, Angelika said.
Unable to speak, the former age-group world championship winner of 2003 Ironman Kona could communicate only by blinking and, by doing so, she indicated that she wished to be taken off the ventilator, Angelika said.
At the request of the family, a doctor removed her ventilator on August 26, 2008, three days after the accident. She was 65 at the time of her passing.
"I'm always saying 'we,' because I cannot now get used to saying 'I'," Angelika said.
Ever since they left home together at age 14 to attend high school in the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck, they virtually did everything together for most of their lives.
"I was always the sensitive, emotional and artistic one. She was the intellectual one. We always complemented and helped each other," Angelika said.
After completing high school in Innsbruck, the twins set out to conquer the world together beginning in Florence, Italy, where they studied art and art history at Accademia di Belle Arti. To help support themselves, they began modeling and working on cruise ships.
Four years later, with $300 between them and no knowledge of Spanish, they decided "the time was ripe to conquer Mexico by storm."
In Mexico City, initially with the intention of studying pre-Columbian art, but their cash fast dwindling, they soon found work as fashion models doing photo shoots and TV commercials in eight countries.
"So from the $300, we started to make good money," Angelika recalled.
Eventually, they were able to open their own fashion design house, six clothing boutiques, a modeling and personal development school, and a model agency.
Angelika also discovered she had a talent as a fashion show choreographer with a national reputation for her extravagant creations; and Barbara discovered she had a talent for acting, earning roles in 25 feature films and starring roles in two American TV series, "Mission Impossible" and "I Spy" under her stage name of Barbara Angely.
The jet-setting twins soon became regulars at parties in Acapulco, New York and Los Angeles.
In their biography on their Web site (www.twinteam.com), they wrote: "The extreme, unnatural lifestyle took a grip on their souls. Neurotic, unsatisfied, and involved in drugs, their life had to take a turn for their survival."
In Mexico, both had married, had children, and eventually divorced.
When a devaluation of Mexico's currency left them with only 20 percent of their savings, they decided it was time for a new beginning. Again, in their biography, they said they "assigned a power of attorney to their business manager who very soon seized all they had as his own property ..."
Barbara initially moved to Texas where she earned her doctorate in psychology, then relocated to Pacific Beach and opened her private practice, authored four motivational books, and, with Angelika, conducted seminars and became outstanding extreme sports competitors.
In 1995 Barbara married Tom Warren, winner of the second Ironman competition in 1979.
Angelika had moved to San Diego with her two young sons where she worked as an international project manager and later, with her sister, conducted seminars and organized sports events and travel expeditions. As a digital photographer and artist, she creates "photo imagination art," available for viewing and sale on her Web site: photoimaginationart.com.
Since her sister's passing, Angelika said, "I have been in a terrible state, but I am starting again. My ambition in art has always been 'to get out of the box'" which she is doing with her photo imagination art, in addition to a physical regimen that includes working out three times a week at the gym, swimming, biking and mountain biking.
After 18 years as a single mom, Angelika married electronics engineer and triathlon athlete Preston Drake. They have been married for seven years.
Asked what message she might have for Girl Scouts and young women in general, she said: "Life is like a road and there are many rocks and pebbles on that road. These are our adversities in life. We only reach farther and farther if we conquer these pebbles and rocks. It's for each one of us to search why there are pebbles on the road and each may have a different answer to that. Our answer was God."