At age 64, Katharine Briar-Lawson shows no signs of slowing down. In fact she’s doing just the opposite. This year, she’s begun training for an infamously grueling race, the Ironman. If all goes well, in July of her 65th year, Katharine will swim 2.4 miles and then jump on a bike to race 112 miles before lacing up her running shoes for a 26.2-mile run... all on the same day.
Though ambition has always been a palpable part of Katharine’s personality, it was largely channeled into a demanding and fruitful career until she had a wake up call one tired morning shortly after she turned 40. Katharine remembers hearing her alarm blaring just after dawn in a hotel room. She reached to turn it off but had so much pain in her back that she couldn’t get out of bed. Disturbed by her own ill health, Katharine says she “realized I would either be aging prematurely or I needed to do something to build up my body. I had been a smoker and unhealthy and had overcome some challenges from childhood. Here I was at age 40, realizing that I needed to embrace a different lifestyle.”
She began where many women of her generation did, in her living room in front of a Jane Fonda workout video. Her next step was joining a gym. A few years later, she started jogging. At age 46, she ran her first race, a 5-K in sunny South Florida.
The next year, she suffered through a painful and unexpected separation and subsequent divorce from her husband of 25 years. This turned up the volume on her running habit. She ran more and more “as a coping mechanism” and, thankfully, she discovered that “it helped.”
Katharine continued to run and heal while working her usual 12-hour days as a professor, administrator, researcher consultant, and ardent crusader for child welfare. Katharine has given hundreds of speeches, travels weekly, has written numerous books, and has touched the lives of untold children. For most people, that would be enough. But not for Katharine who describes herself as “high energy.”
Three years after her excruciating divorce, Katharine ran her first tri-athelon at age 51. Training for this event was a bit daunting for her as she tried to remember how to ride a bike and repeatedly fell off in the process. On race day, she says she “nearly drowned.” For the swimming segment of the race, the women went first but Katharine remembers, “I was slow.” She was still in the water when the men’s swim race began and they “just swam right over me in their wetsuits… I was scared.” She not only finished that race, she won first place in her division.
Since that race, Katharine has completed marathons, half-marathons, and even snowshoe races. When asked where she learned her unstoppable courage and endurance, Katharine says she doesn’t know…”probably from my childhood.” From a young age, Katharine’s traumatic childhood may have embedded a strong drive to survive.
Pursuing fitness and even the occasional marathon is one thing, the Ironman is another.
Katharine explains why she is choosing to pursue this wildly formidable goal, “it allows me to set my sights on something that pushes me and represents a challenge that I’d like to embrace. With proper training it could be do-able. I don’t have to be competing against anybody but myself. All I have to do is finish. There are fewer and fewer women and people my age that are attempting such feats so it’s important to not let age be an inhibitor.”
Thank you Katharine, for sharing your Story with us!
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© 2009 by Jenoa Briar-Bonpane and Story of My Life®