Born -1950 ; Location - Cornwall, UK / Dundas, Ontario, Canada ; Sport - Triathlon, Marathon runner
It has to be said, there's something about Mary. And that something is that she is one of the more extreme athletes we have had the pleasure of meeting.
We have occasionally had feedback from people we've approached to interview for our site that they find some of the people already on the site somewhat intimidating in terms of their athletic achievement, their abilities. "Oh no, we don't think we're extreme enough to be on your site", they say. Well, on the one hand Mary could be adding to that feeling. Her achievements are pretty impressive. On the other hand, however, when you talk to her she is so unassuming and down-to-earth about what she has done and can do that it's difficult not to be inspired by her, to believe that everything is possible - as she her self says when describing her encounter with Team Hoyt, more of which later.
So, what are the achievements, what is her story? Reaching the age of 50, she thought that it was time to take herself in hand, to do something to counter the effects of time. One of her sons, Peter, was himself a triathlete, and while supporting him at an event she met the mother of another of the competitors, who was enthusing about having herself taken part in the shorter distance event. Mary was intrigued, and entered, with her whole family, a Try Triathlon event. With not a lot in the way of preparation, she was thrilled to find, when the results were called, that she had come second in her age-group. Buoyed up by this she entered more events, competing in Olympic distance triathlons organised by the International Triathlon Union.
The Olympic distance triathlon is a 1500m swim, a 40km bike ride and a 10km run, which adds up to 51.5km or 32.13 miles. There are shorter distance events as well as longer. The Try Triathlon that Mary took part in as her first triathlon comprised a swim of 360m, a 10km ride and, to finish, a 2.5km run totalling 12.86km/6.06 miles. Ironman totals 140.6 miles (226.1km) between the three disciplines and half Ironman is therefore 70.3 miles (113.05).
Mary tells how Team Hoyt inspired her
It was again supporting her son at the World Ironman event on Kona, Hawaii that she finally went up in terms of distance, and this was inspired by her encounter with Team Hoyt. She describes this in some detail in "Mary - Inspiration" but in brief Team Hoyt are a father and son pairing in which the Father, Dick Hoyt, propels his son Rick, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, round Triathlon courses and marathons, in a boat, on a bike seat and pushing him in a wheelchair for the run. This so moved Mary that she lost all resistance to doing longer distance events. And it is in the longer events that she has had her best results. She has had top 10 finishes in her age group in the World Ironman Championships in 2010 and 2011. She has had 2nd and 3rd places in her her age group in the World 70.3 (half-ironman distance) Championships in Clearwater Florida in 2008, 2009,and 2010. And she has had first place finishes in Ironman at Lake Placid 2007, Ironman China 2010, Ironman Brazil and Ironman UK in 2011. In addition to this, she regularly runs many of the major marathons such as London, Boston and New York.
When we interviewed ultra-runner Hilary Walker, she had changed her sport from pure ultra distance running to Duathlon and Triathlon and she felt that as a result she had a more balanced body. Mary is similarly enthusiastic about the cross training aspect of triathlon. In fact she feels that that is one facet of the sport that makes it particularly suitable for Silver Grey athletes. Apart from the fitness benefits, running can be quite wearing on the body and is by far the higher cause of injuries of the three disciplines of triathlon.
Mary keeps it simple, and fun
With swimming and cycling being low- or non-impact activities, however, it is completely possible to continue taking part in them even while injured, thus keeping up your fitness and then re-introducing the running when the injury has healed. She is also keen to keep all her training and equipping as simple as possible. In addition, the cross-training means that the amount of training she has to do is a lot less wearing on her body. She believes that a lot of people, not just over-50's, are put off triathlon by the apparent need for complicated and technical training regimes and support. She doesn't go in for marketed sports drinks and products, she doesn't have a heart-rate monitor, she hasn't had her lactic-acid testing done. She keeps everything simple, she has green tea in her drinks bottle, she has a peanut butter sandwich for energy during the race and pretzels and Rice Crispy squares for quick energy boosts. Anything to keep it simple and sustainable.
Mary told us during her interview that at the age of 50, one of the things that enabled her to consider taking up triathlon was the reducing involvement with her children as they became more grown up and independent, apart from with her youngest with whom she was still very involved. Her youngest, Tim, is a Down Syndrome child, with special needs. Mary told us with great pride that she and another of her sons have been getting Tim involved in sport and he has successfully taken part in the Canadian National Winter Games in 2012, he has taken part in several triathlons including Guelph Lake in 2011, and has competed at the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics are an organisation, recognised by the IOC, who organise events and Games for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Although the Special Olympics organise many, many events all around the world, Mary would like to see a Special Olympics attached to the Olympic Games in the way the Paralympics now are.
In the mix, steely 60's, and ex-Brits
Mary and her husband have lived much of their married life in Canada, and it was in Canada that Mary began her triathlon career after seeing other women her age competing in triathlon. She observes that there appears to be much more involvement in the sport by older women than in the UK and Europe, where she finds that she is often the oldest age group athlete taking part in an event, and often by some considerable margin. In Canada, however, she finds that she will be one amongst 10 or more competitors in her age group, and with quite a healthy dose of competitiveness between them. Her training group in Canada is, however, made up largely of ex-Brits so she is of the opinion that it's more of a cultural outlook than anything else.
When at a triathlon event she is excited to be considered one athlete amongst many and says it is fantastic that in triathlon all the athletes - professionals and age groupers - are at the same event, and competing on the course at the same time, she says it gives her a huge lift. Looking to the future, she also takes inspiration from the American nun Sister Madonna Buder who has not only become the first woman over 80 to complete Ironman but has also taken the title of the oldest person to complete Ironman. She says she hopes to inspire other women, and older women in particular, to take up the sport as she says that her fitness and conditioning help her feel much more like an athlete than a 60-something-year old and is excited by the prospect that at 62 she has perhaps 20 more years in her sport, something that would have been unthinkable a generation ago - and with a couple of personal best times this year, she is hoping to continue improving. As she says, she doesn't plan to slow down any time soon.