101. Triathlete Grandma

101. Triathlete Grandma

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Triathlete Grandma

When anyone tells me I can’t do anything… I’m just not listening any more.
 ~Florence Griffith Joyner

When I run a 5K, I usually ask myself why I am doing this before the end of the first mile. Most runners have passed me, I feel the blood rushing to my cheeks, and my breathing is labored. Nevertheless, with sheer determination and a steady pace, this grandma keeps moving forward.

Near the end of the second mile I begin to relax. Becoming a runner at forty-eight taught me that no one can run my race for me. To reach the finish line, I must run according to my abilities, not others’. Once I’ve passed the halfway point, I press on under the illusion of saving myself for a big finish. The finish is rarely big, but I always finish.

The challenges at my age go beyond physical. Training for a race also challenges me mentally and emotionally, and parallels how I live life. At the start of a race, the distance between the beginning and the end is daunting. To finish I focus on where I am rather than where I’m going. The same is true of my daily challenges. When I set goals and move toward them one step at a time, the journey doesn’t seem so overwhelming and I get to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Becoming athletic at my age is also a way to keep a handle on my cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and a slew of other physical maladies that creep into a senior’s life. In the greater race of life, I want to cross the final finish line strong, knowing that I persevered in the challenges of the race, kept going when I didn’t believe I could take another step, and smiled victoriously at those who cheered me on.

My family surprised me with a road bike for my fiftieth birthday. I thought it was the coolest gift ever for a grandmother of six and immediately joined a bicycle club. We rode every weekend during the summer, riding anywhere from fifty to eighty miles a day. On one occasion, we pedaled a hundred miles over the country roads of Illinois.

At the age of fifty-two, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The surgery and radiation treatments left my muscles so tender that I couldn’t lift my left arm above my head without pain. Already uncomfortable with arthritis in my neck, feet and hands, I decided to wage a battle against the pain and join the YMCA.

My first time in the pool found me huffing, puffing, and gasping for air at the end of the first lap. While stubbornness had not always served me well, in this instance it did. Soon I was swimming three times a week and, in time, joined the Masters Swim Team. Skepticism was apparent on my instructor’s face, a young man who was far more at ease training ironman triathletes and marathon runners than a senior citizen. Although I was out of my league in athletic ability, no one could question my determination to persevere in the drills and laps.

As I became more experienced, I ran several 5K and 8K races with my boss, a forty-year-old woman and long time triathlete. Physical training and endurance were the weapons of choice in her battle with rheumatoid arthritis. We were having lunch one day when she asked, “Bonnie, you bike, run, and swim, so why not sign up for a triathlon?” So, I did.

My goal in my first triathlon was to make it to the finish line. When I placed second in my age group, I was astonished. That there were only two of us in my age group didn’t diminish my sense of accomplishment. I figured that being one of only two in my category in a field of 2,000 women was a statement in itself. So with great pride, I hung my medal on a hook in the garage, right next to the rakes, shovels, and other garden tools.

I entered the triathlon the following year and placed second again, but this time there were six in my age group. When the medal was placed around my neck, I shed a triumphant tear and felt like a real champion.

In the world of athletics I’m the tortoise, not the hare. Even so, I find great rewards in pushing myself to my limits. It’s me finding out who I really am when alone on the trail with no one to measure my distance but me. It’s me finding out my true character when counting my laps and no one else is around. It’s me not giving up when exhausted and continuing to grind my way to the end. I have the wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes with victory over physical and mental challenges, knowing that I did the best I could with what I have been given.

Because I am sixty-six, my eighty-five-year-old mother worries that I will have a heart attack during a race. My response is always the same: “Mother, I would rather die falling off my bike than falling off the couch.”

~Bonnie Schey McClurg

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