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My First Triathlon at Age 71

By Lee Chemel | Oct. 06, 2015, 3:19 p.m. (ET)

Lee ChemelIn October 2014 I signed up to do my first triathlon: a sprint tri in Goleta, California. I was 71 years old and felt like I needed a boost to improve my health and fitness. I direct television comedies: the workdays are long and sometimes it is hard to fit in a good amount of working out in a week. So the tri seemed like a great idea.

A few days before Christmas, I was diagnosed with lymphoma. I figured that the triathlon was out. But in January I met a great oncologist, Dr. Fred Rosenfelt. He said “We are going to cure you.” And that’s what he did. After three months of chemo and a month of radiation, I turned to my husband David and said, “You wanna go for it with me?” and he said “yeah!”

That’s when we met a wonderful coach, Steve Mackel, who specializes in, among many other things, training beginners. I was afraid of the bike: being clipped in, speed, thin tires. David wasn’t a swimmer. 

Steve schooled us in all of the disciplines. It was tough. David’s knees were a mess after many surgeries. My lung capacity had been compromised from the chemo. 

After three months of hard work and great training, we headed to Goleta. The sprint tri is not an elite event. But to us, it was a huge challenge. David, 62, and me, 72, were just hoping to finish. And because I had a doctor who was aggressive and knowledgeable, and because we had a trainer who was the same, we both found our way to the podium for our age groups. It was an amazing feeling! 

My husband and I both joined USA Triathlon. We got many useful tips from the website but more important than that we found the event was run with great care. People were so friendly, especially to newbies. Our fear and anxiety diminished greatly when we realized what a great group of people were in charge.

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