Six Upstate women got the chance to compete in the annual Iron Girl triathlon this year as representatives of Upstate’s Women’s Health Network. That means on Aug. 3 they swam 600 meters, biked 30K and ran 5K at Onedia Shores Park with 14,994 other women.
For weeks and months leading up to that day, these women swam, biked and ran, fitting their training between jobs, classes and families.
Heather Nelson, 24, bicycles to and from the laboratory where she is a graduate student in cell and developmental biology, and on weekends she bikes as much as 40 miles. That’s part of how she trains, in addition to the running she has done regularly since the age of 12. She is enthusiastic for all kinds of physical activity. Iron Girl was Nelson’s first triathlon – and she finished first in her age category with a total time of 1 hours, 30 minutes and 21 seconds.
Iron Girl was to be the first triathlon for Wendi Burnette, 43, who works in the department of neuroscience and physiology. She has been a runner for 20 years, and a few years ago a friend reintroduced her to the pleasures of cycling. “I had forgotten how much fun it is to ride a bike,” she says. Two months before race day, she assessed her readiness. “That means I just have to learn how to swim, something stronger than a dog paddle.”
Fresh off her second half marathon, physical therapy student Liz Van Nortwick, 23, was searching for a new challenge. She got a new bike at the end of last summer, so she was anxious to try a triathlon. Iron Girl was perfect, she says, “because my second clinical finishes the last week of July, so I will be back in Syracuse just in time to compete.”
Catarina Walter, 40, a programmer analyst in information management and technology, is an experienced triathlete who has competed in Iron Girl. “Last year there was a 69-year-old woman who beat my time by approximately 2 minutes,” she says. “I’m not ashamed of my time. Rather, I am proud of the 69-year-old who beat someone 30 years younger than her. I’m hoping I can still do this at 69, too.”
Social worker Kimberlee Garver, 45, did not expect to be a top finisher but kept reminding herself that someone would win, but many would not even try. “For me, participating and finishing will be victory.” After nearly two decades of shuttling her children to sports practices and games, she’s finally focusing on her own physical and mental health. Plus, she suspects that her children will be inspired to see their mom cross the Iron Girl finish line.
Marika Toscano, 26, is a third-year medical student who says the focus required for long days in the operating room is similar to that required for training for endurance events such as triathlons. She relies on the same protein shakes, protein bars and sports beverages to keep her going at the hospital, and she says she intends to remain an athlete throughout her medical training and beyond. “I want to be able to motivate my future patients to stay fit, live well and eat healthy,” Toscano says. “If I’m not practicing this lifestyle, I cannot ask my patients to do the same.”
Learn more about the Women’s Health Network at Upstate