Unstoppable – Mary Houbolt

Unstoppable – Mary Houbolt


Mary Houbolt celebrated her 60th birthday in a most unusual way. No birthday cake complete with black candles and black crepe paper streamers for her. She competed in her first Ironman triathlon.

If you’re not familiar with the Ironman, it’s the granddaddy of triathlons. It’s one of the most grueling and one that can intimidate even the fittest athlete. It’s a race that combines a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

No, I can guarantee you that competing in one of these is not on my Turning-60-Agenda! But that didn’t slow Mary down. In 1989, when she was 32, tests revealed that a lump in her breast was malignant and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Her two daughters were ages 4 and 6 at that time. Despite the dismal diagnosis with a slim chance of survival, aggressive treatment sent Mary’s breast cancer into full remission.

And here was now, looking 60 dead in her sights. So, she went for it.

She began exercising and training seven days a week, and after 14 months of training was ready. She didn’t expect to win. Her only goal was simply to complete it. (Ha! I write ‘simply’ as if just completing the Ironman is a simple thing. No it is not!)

She not only finished the event, she won in her age group!

As Stephanie Booth writes in her article about Mary:

One triathlon’s enough for most people. Mary had a different take. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll keep trying,’” she says.

Mary kept going. She was unstoppable. Booth reports that in the past seven years Mary competed in 9 Ironman competitions and over 20 other triathlons. She also competed in Race Across America, where a four-woman team cycled 3,000 miles across 12 states. She and her team “finished in 7 days and 11 hours, setting a record for women between the ages of 60-69.”

Booth writes:

Mary just turned 67, but she won’t be slowing down anytime soon. “I will not grow old gracefully. I don’t want to just sit on the couch.” Each time she competes, “I feel lucky to be alive,” she says. “I think, ‘Life is great. I’m really glad I was able to keep mine.’”

Cancer didn’t stop Mary 29 years ago. And age isn’t stopping her now. This unstoppable icon is an inspiration to me. If she can do all that…what can I do?


July 2019
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