Meet the (soon to be) “oldest female to participate (and complete?!) the Canadian Ultra520K”

I’ve known Carol for a few years and have been following her as she has become more competitive in the Tri-world. I’m honoured to have her share her experiences with us as she has moved from a woman experiencing crippling arthritis to potentially being the “oldest female to have participated in the Canadian Ultra520K”. 520K = 520 kilometres of swimming, cycling, and running.

Yes, this is Carol.I can’t stop staring at those calves. Or her quads. Or her forearms. Or her shoulders. Arthritis, what?!

Almost 10 years ago I started out on an unexpected journey that has since lead to experiences that I could never had imagined.

You see, I was that kid. You know they one – uncoordinated, gawky, and clumsy without a competitive bone in her body who was picked last for teams, and squeaked by with “C’s” in PE (only because she showed up). The best comments from a PE teacher were “Carol works hard”.

As a young adult, I liked to go for walks, or ride my bike for a couple of hours, but I didn’t do sports. I rarely even watched sports. I recall watching Simon Whitfield winning the first triathlon in the Olympics and thinking to myself “That would be cool”. I can swim (I’d had 10 swim lessons in grade 4 and was blissfully ignorant of my incompetence in the water), I could ride a bike (I had early version of a mountain bike with zero suspension and a baby seat still on the back), and I could run (actually, I could jog – for an hour or so). I thought “no way, I have arthritis in my knees and wrists, and I have asthma. It’s never gonna happen”.  

Fast forward to 2007. The arthritis in my thumb and wrist had gotten so bad, I could barely dress myself. I couldn’t change gears or operate brakes on a bike, hadn’t been able to ski, and couldn’t tie my shoes. I couldn’t walk by the tablesaw in the garage without thinking that it would be so easy….so easy to just cut it off, and end the pain. When I was referred to a surgeon, I thought it was to have an amputation. Imagine my shock to find out she could fix it! Which she did, by removing the arthritic bone, harvesting some tendon from my forearm, rolling it up and putting into place instead of the bone. That surgery was life changing but recovery takes a while and, as part of my rehab, I decided to try swimming again. 12 weeks post-op and my thumb was still so loose and weak that it couldn’t resist the pressure of the water: it wobbled all over. I managed 8 lengths of the pool that first day. The rest of my time was spent marvelling at a group of very fast swimmers in the far lanes.

Over the next few months, I met some of those swimmers and discovered they were part of a triathlon club. Some of the members to realize that I also rode a bike and liked to run, they encouraged me to join in their swim. Sure, I’d gotten to the point that I could swim 40 lengths of the pool but I figured I was easily a decade older than even the oldest other person. They were all so athletic and I wasn’t.  I was missing a bone in my wrist, had bad knees and asthma for crying out loud! There was no way I was going to join in until I could swim as fast as the slowest of them! That never actually never  happened (and still hasn’t) but I did finally decided to jump in the lane with them one morning.

The swim coach watched me swim a few lengths and had a look on his face that said it all without saying a word:  “Oh my God, what am I going to do with this!?! Where do I start?” In retrospect, that look started an inner fire of defiance and determination. I would default to old behaviours. I would work hard. I would show him!

I did my first 2 triathlons that summer.  The first one was sprint (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run). I used my mountain bike with smooth tires and clamp-on aero bars (nobody told me that it was uncool to put aerobars on a mountain bike!). But I wasn’t last.

The second race was an Olympic distance (same as Simon Whitfield did!) at 1500m swim, 40km bike, and 10km run. By then I had a proper road bike, and placed about the middle of my age group. I was hooked.

Since that first year, I have had 2 bones removed from my other wrist, have gone through menopause, and have learned that I have osteoporosis. I also developed anaphylaxis to bee stings. But I’ve been able to train and race in BC, Alberta, Washington, Arizona, Hawaii, and Mexico; including 5 Ironman races.

This upcoming August I get to participate in Ultra520KCanada A 3 day event, it includes a 10k swim and 149k bike on Day 1, a 275k bike on Day 2, and a 84.4k run on Day 3. As long as I get through these last few weeks of training, I will be the oldest female to have ever participated in the Canadian Ultra520K (in 2008, 56 year-old American racer, Beatrice VanHorne completed the event).

I’ve fallen in love with the sport of Triathlon. I love the training, especially the bike rides and runs through our amazing countryside, and swimming with painted turtles in mountain lakes. I love the sense of accomplishment and confidence it has given me. I’ve met some amazing people and made new friends who inspire me daily. The lessons that it teaches transfer into the rest of my life: have big dreams, but make small steps; surround yourself with positive people, work hard, and remember to thank the volunteers.

Oh, and another great thing: I get to eat….  A LOT!

Carol is a “woman of a certain age” with spunk (she’s 58). She had to apply – and was accepted – to compete at the Ultra520K this coming August (it’s a pretty serious event and she had to prove she was capable of the arduous competition). Over the coming weeks, Carol is sharing her story with us on how she’s come into triathlon, coping and training with arthritis, and that wonderfully female-experience that is menopause.

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