The Mid-Life Triathlete

By Rose Cintronallen | May 07, 2018, 11:24 p.m. (ET)

I walked by a row of actuarial cubicles at a health insurance company and saw “When I was little, I didn’t dream of working at a health insurance company” posted on a wall.  Well, when I was young, I never dreamed of becoming a triathlete.  It is true that triathlon had not been invented yet, but still growing up and even in my early adulthood, this was never my goal. So how does someone decide to take on this sport in his or her mid-fifties?  My motivation was my mom’s illness and a wake-up call to improve my health.

I was not athletic as a child, teen or early adult.  I was a shy, geeky, avid book reader with a talent for art.  My only exercise was running away from my male cousins who would punch you in the arm if they caught you in their warped game of tag. I walked a lot out of necessity. In my early thirties, I took up running to share an activity with my husband and I loved it! We ran everything from 5ks to marathons. We joined a running club and met people who we are still friends today. I developed overuse injuries. When both my husband and daughter had ‘epic medical episodes’ in the same year, I stopped running completely.  I promptly gained weight.  Each time I tried to return to running it hurt too much, I was slow and was quickly discouraged. I became a couch potato.

I lost my mom, Bunny, to cancer in April 2009.  Except for being overweight, she was a healthy woman her entire life before she contracted cancer.  She was a very strong swimmer. If we were at a lake, mom would swim back and forth for what seemed to be hours.  I never swam.  A chronic ear problem kept me out of the water. I had no desire to learn. 

Mom’s illness motivated me to “take back my life” and return to fitness. I discovered spin bikes and then progressed to riding a bike outdoors. Mom died in April and in July, my sister and I rode as “Team Bunny” in the American Cancer Society bike-a-thon in her memory.  When winter arrived, I took my bike south so I could still ride my bike. I was re-born into the world of fitness as a cyclist and loved it!  I was able to ride with people much younger than my silver years. It was in Florida where I was introduced to the world of multi-sport. I loved racing when I was a runner. I tried Timed Trial races (one bike goes as fast as possible one at a time) but I was competing against 20 and 30 year-olds as there is no age group competitions.  It was fun but not that encouraging. I heard about duathlons and triathlons from a few female cyclists.  I needed to run again to do a duathlon (run, bike, run) and learn how to swim for a triathlon (swim, bike, run).  Every time I tried to do a short run, I experienced soreness. Even though I developed fitness as a cyclist, running was still a problem.

Inspired to become a triathlete I joined the newly formed Mullica Hill Women’s Tri Club.  Joining a tri club is a great way to get started, learn from others and instantly have an expanded group of friends.  That fall I participated in my very first multi-sport event as the bike leg of a relay. If you only have one sport under your belt, a relay is a great way to get started and experience the thrill of racing,

On my 54th birthday, I road my bike 54 miles and after stretching, ran a half mile run around the neighborhood.  I had no pain during that run or afterwards.  Without knowing what I was doing, I re-entered running into my life with a “brick run”.  My new running routine became, cycle, stretch, run and stretch. I kept the distances short to prevent injury.

In April 2011, I entered Multi-Race’s Egg Hunt duathlon.  It was a perfect race for me with short run distances of 1.5 miles before and after an 11-mile bike.  I surprised myself with fast run times that, to be honest, were faster than when I was younger!  When I returned to NJ, I did another duathlon.  I decided to learn how to swim and become a triathlete.

Just over the age of 54, I had my first swim lesson and a few months later, my first triathlon. Since then I have raced over 50 triathlons, including a 140.6 distance race where I crossed the finish line with my grand-daughters.  In 2017, I participated in the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championship in Penticton, Canada as a member of Team USA.  I felt like an Olympian (which felt like a fantasy) but this was real-life and it happened to me. I’m just an average triathlete with a drive and passion for the sport.

The world of multi-sport has changed my life. I gained confidence. I learned that you never stop learning, new challenges add variety and fun to life, you will continually be inspired by others and its glorious to share in the joy of newcomers in this sport!  Some of my former running friends are now doing triathlon. We are all over 50 and having the time of our lives! So, if you are in your mid-years and want to make a change; give it a tri! #USATSilverSisters #USATSilverBrothers

The USA Triathlon Ambassadors provide resources, advice and inspiration to aspiring athletes in their local communities, using their collective stories and experiences to grow multisport participation nationwide. Meet the ambassadors here.