08/15/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
THE MAIN WATER HAZARD ANDREA Spitzer encounters while paddling her kayak in L.A.'s Marina Del Rev is the men in motorized dinghies who can't seem to help calling out, waving, even trying to race her around the bay. "I cannot wave back," says Spitzer, 26, "because I'm paddling and concentrating. I don't break my rhythm."
The vulgar boatmen should be forgiven if they are swept away. The 5'11" Spitzer is a sleekly muscled Teutonic beauty. A successful model in Europe, she is also the reigning women's world champion in the quadrathlon (a seven-year-old event, just becoming known in the U.S., that adds a 12-mile kayaking leg to the triathlon's 13-mile run, 3-mile swim and 62-mile bicycle race). "She is amazing—no woman can get near her," says Eric Hatliff, president of the British Quadrathlon Association, of Spitzer, who plans to defend her title on Sept. 25 in Ibiza, Spain. "She looks so ladylike and then goes out and really dominates."
The only child of an architect and a housewife, Spitzer nurtured a taste for adventure during her childhood in semirural Erding, Germany, near Munich. At 13, she wanted to go to England with a tour group, but her parents refused to pay. So Andrea did baby-sitting and odd jobs to raise the $800 for the trip. At 17, she bought a motorcycle and took a tour of the glaciers and volcanoes of Iceland. Again, she says, "my parents tried to talk me out of it."
The next year she spent two months crossing the Sahara Desert by motorcycle. "When my father said goodbye to me," says Spitzer, "he said he thought he would never see me again."
Of course he did, and so did a lot of other Germans when Spitzer began modeling in 1986. In time she also graced catwalks and magazine covers in Italy and Spain, but after two years she was bored. "All the other girls wanted to do was talk about makeup," she says. "I knew I needed a change."
She started biking and kayaking purely to get in shape. Then in 1988 friends persuaded her to enter a triathlon. Afterward, she says, "I was sick and throwing up, and I had to do a fashion show the next day. I told everyone I am never doing another triathlon." But determined to get it right, she did another, and another. Switching to quadrathlon because she loved kayaking, she won her first international title in 1992 and her second last year.
Nowadays she and boyfriend-manager Gary Catona, 41, live in a Spanish-style cottage in West Hollywood, which is decorated with Andrea's colorful abstract paintings. (That's right, she also paints.) Between modeling for Bianchi bicycles, Vuarnet sunglasses and Danskin swimwear, she spends 5 hours a day training. "Working out for Andrea," says Catona, who cheers from the sidelines, "is like breathing for other people."
Beyond winning the world championship, Andrea is vague about the future. Just now, she wants to promote her sport in the U.S. "I see a lot of depressed people who are not doing what they want," she says. "If I could teach them something, it would be to set little goals and achieve them. Life should be an adventure."