Triatholon medal - FinalThere came a day when I learned age is just a number. The 24-hour camping girls asked me to join them to complete the 9th Annual Heartland Triathlon in Sebring, FL. This sprint tri is comprised of a ¼ mile swim, a 15 mile bike ride, and a 5k run. “No one is training,” they said; “Just come and do it with us and the race will be fun.” These friends are all very fit and into different types of fitness: yoga, running, and biking being the endeavors of choice. Of course I said yes, for who would want to miss this 24 hour adventure?   (Sidebar: the ladies’ 24-hour camping group is comprised of about 12 women who love camping, but don’t have time for a long trip. Hence, the Sunday noon to Monday noon trips all taken within one hour of Tampa.)

We loaded into a Toyota Sequoia equipped with 5 bikes and 5 overnight bags and refreshments for the 5 ladies competing, the vehicle overflowing. The trip to Sebring was uneventful. If you have ever driven down US 98 to US 27 through the middle of the state of Florida you know why.

We dropped our bags and bikes at the historic Kenilworth Lodge and made our way over to the check-in. The procedure is pretty simple: pick up your packet, get a t-shirt and SWAG bag, then get “marked” with your number. So far so good: packet there, small t-shirt available, and terrific SWAG in a terrific bag!  Well, here’s where it starts to get ugly: the staff writes your race number on both shoulders in marker (marker that is truly sweat and water resistant; read not coming off for at least a week). Then they ask your age for the express purpose of marking your right calf with that number. “No”, I said, “That is totally unnecessary. I prefer to keep people guessing, so that they can remark, “Wow look at her! I wonder how old she is.”” I learned very quickly that if I did not comply I could not compete, so I acquiesced; my age proudly marked on my calf.

The next day we assembled back at the car at 6:00 AM to take our bikes and gear to the transition area and get ready for the race. It was a beautiful morning, calm and cooler, with no sign of rain on the horizon. In fact, it was downright inspirational to be alive on that morning with my age on my calf for all to see and then to see the ages of the other competitors. They ranged from 13 up to 86! No slackers here in Sebring for the 9th Heartland Tri. This was an opportune time to see everyone’s age as all calves were exposed for the swim. Wow! There were some men and women in really great shape. The numbers on their calves belied their ages!

Each age group wore a different color cap and the waves released into the lake to begin the swim. All five of us were in the same group and started the swim together. Since there was NO prior training I had no idea how hard the swim would be for me. Quickly I knew the answer: hard. I wound up swimming breaststroke the whole way and exited the water with my group! I gasped for air trying to run up to the transition area and get on to the next leg. I faltered here and took 8 minutes to don my bike shorts, shoes, nibble on a power bar, and get on my way.

The bike route followed the lake and it was still cool and beautiful with mist rising off the lake. I was managing my breath and felt fairly strong at this point in the event. My mood shifted as more and more people kept passing me saying ever so politely, “On your left!” My mood darkened as I saw the passersby’s age marked on their calf! I steeled myself to pass at least one person and really enjoyed articulating, “On your left” as I passed my first competitor. He was a really nice guy and was a year younger than me riding the same type of hybrid bike. Score one for the old lady!

As I kept riding I saw all types of people enjoying the day just happy to be fit enough and adventurous enough to do the event. Life was good for all concerned no matter the age.

I finished the bike – my friends nowhere to be found – and made my transition to the run. New shoes, different shorts, a quick gulp of Gatorade, and off I went. Actually, I nearly crawled at that point walking very slowly through the first mile. And then I acknowledged that finishing was the goal for this girl.

photo (4)

I never saw the 86 year old woman or her 84 year old husband on any of the legs of the tri. I do recall seeing the woman at the start and thinking, “Is she really 86? That is so impressive.” These two won their respective age groups and were just adorable when receiving their awards. I hope that we camping girls will have the guts and glory to be doing triathlons into our 80’s.