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88-year-old great-grandma loves triathlons

/ Source: The Associated Press

Eighty-eight-year-old Mary Stroebe is a little beat up.

On a short bike ride outside her wooded home on the city’s west side, she somehow sliced open her calf. There’s a titanium rod in her left shin, a constant reminder of a skiing accident earlier this year.

But the bespectacled, silver-haired great-grandmother is still decked out in her riding gear — pink, purple and black shorts and shirt — and her day is just getting started. She’s got three weeks left to get ready for the Life Time Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis, named for the chain of gyms sponsoring the Minneapolis race.

The July 15th triathlon — a succession of swimming, biking and running that tests even the most hardened athletes’ wills and stamina — will be Stroebe’s 12th.

“I think I’m young so I act like it. I don’t realize how old I am,” she said Saturday. “I’m in good health and good shape. I’ve stayed active the whole time. Those are things that pay off.”

The retired school teacher grew up an athlete, playing intramural basketball, volleyball and field hockey at Lawrence University in Appleton. She spent three years in the U.S. Navy Waves during World War II, coding and decoding messages in Seattle as a lieutenant junior grade.

She began a lifelong love affair with downhill skiing in Seattle, and still teaches skiing at Devil’s Head Resort in Merrimac.

She entered her first triathlon in Beloit in 1993 at age 75, joining her son Bruce — who has competed in several triathlons himself — and her granddaughter in a three-generation team. Each one competed in one leg of the race.

“I just watched them and said that looks like fun,” she said. “I can do that.”

Not ready to hang it up

She entered her first triathlon on her own in 1995. She’s done 10 more since.

This past January, she broke her left leg after a snowboarder fell in front of her while she was skiing at Squaw Valley. Doctors inserted the rod in her leg and forbid her to compete in this year’s triathlon.

Nothing doing, said Stroebe.

She picked up her training again two months ago with the help of a personal trainer. Almost every day she spends up to three hours riding, biking or walking.

“Each year I think it’s my last,” she said. “Sometimes I think it’s time to hang it up. Then it comes and I think it’s fun to do it one more year.”