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Harriet Anderson: 78 Year Old Ironman Champion

In 2013, Harriet Anderson raced the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

No big deal if you’re 25, full of muscle, pep and vinegar! You can power through the 2.4-mile swim in ocean water. You can jump on your 27-speed carbon bicycle to ram through 112 miles of hot, dry pavement. Finally, you slip into a pair of shorts for a 26.2-mile marathon. Thousands begin the race and many fail to make the finish.

But if you’re 78 years of age, the game changes dramatically. You must deal with aching muscles thin with age. You must maintain training that exhausts 25 year olds. You must deal with the pounding of your hip joints and knees already “rusting” with age.

Not Anderson! She completed 21 Ironman Triathlons since the age of 53. She wins her age division each time. In 2013, no one else could match her “Wonder Woman” power to cross the finish line—first in her age group. Okay, you may be asking the question, “Why would a 78 old woman want to race in one of the world’s most grueling competitions with people one-quarter her age?”

That may be THE question for the ages.

In October, 2009, at age 74, she finished in 11 hours and 53 minutes. That’s just seven minutes before the cutoff. How did that happen? During the bicycle portion of the race, another cyclist bumped her off her bike causing her to break her collarbone. She taped it up and pedaled the last 32 miles of the bike portion before placing her arm in a sling and walking the entire marathon to finish the race under the limit.

Anderson said, “I guess I was just born with the endurance gene.” Speeding into her 50s, Anderson tried Master’s Swimming and excelled. She raced 10 K’s. She cycled in local races. In 1989, she signed up for a half-Ironman. Voila! She won her age group. Her win qualified her for the Kona Ironman in October.

She rose early each morning for a bicycle spin of 30, 40 and 50 miles. She swam endless pool laps. She ran, ran and ran some more. Always with a sense of balance so as not to injure herself. Of course, she eats like a vacuum cleaner on high speed. She devours cereals, fruits and lean protein. She loves Cliff Bars.

“I’m really kind of amazed, because I wasn’t an athlete growing up at all,” Anderson said.

“So I would never have thought that I would still be doing something like this. So each year I keep thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m still doing this?’” For 11 times, she claimed first place in her age division. Lately, few race in the over-75 age group. “For the last few years I’ve been the only one in my age group,” she said. “So the only thing I have to do is just finish.”

At 5’6”, 120 pounds, a former registered nurse who remains married to the same guy for 50 years, she remains lithe and agile. She’s easy going with a ready smile. One of the “things” I noticed in her video interviews: completely happy with her life.

One item blows me away about her:

I run short-course triathlons and have run three half Ironman’s. It takes guts, gumption and true grit. The training nearly kills men half her age. In the case of Harriet Anderson, I couldn’t hold a candlestick to her physical accomplishments. Running an Ironman breaks most men down to physical misery and exhaustion.

To do what she does at age 53 all the way to 78 defies my imagination. If you are a man or woman, look her story up on the Internet. She will motivate you, cause a sense of awe in you and bring out the best in your body, mind and spirit.

Triathlon is not about finding your limits; it’s about discovering what lies beyond them. For Harriet Anderson, she lives with no limits.


Read more posts by Frosty Wooldridge here. Frosty is a blogger for JenningsWire.


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