Never too old to start a new life

Sue Bartoszewski never saw this coming.

She grew up in a time when high school athletics were practically nonexistent for girls. She was married at 19, started raising children shortly thereafter, then later earned her degree and became a nurse.

So Bartoszewski, with no sports background and pulled in so many directions by her life, became sedentary. Eventually she gained weight and became borderline diabetic.

So no, she did not see any future competing in athletics.

Not until 2007, when she went to watch her son David compete in an ironman triathlon. Bartoszewski was coming off major surgery, 80 pounds overweight and 55 years old when she experienced an epiphany: She would become a triathlete.

“That atmosphere [at triathlons] is just electric,” said Bartoszewski, a nurse manager at Centegra Hospital-McHenry. “I watched all of them going for 16 to 17 hours. I stood right there and said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ ”

And in September, the 60-year-old Woodstock resident competed in the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon, her first ironman competition, and won her age group to qualify for the 2013 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

“It’s amazing,” David Bartoszewski said. “She’s an inspiration to everyone I talk to. I couldn’t be more proud of her. It’s really cool.”

David served as Sue’s coach, although he doesn’t want much of the credit. It was a long, slow process that started with walking for 1 minute on the treadmill. By 2008, Sue ran her first 5-kilometer race. By 2009, she competed in her first triathlon, one at sprint distances of half-mile swim, 14-mile bicycle ride and 5K run. The next year, she doubled that.

Then came a half-marathon, then a marathon in 2011 and a couple of half-ironmans. Bartoszewski, who is 5-foot-5, dropped her weight from 210 pounds to 150. She is so much healthier that she no longer requires medicine to control high blood pressure.

“She called and was so excited when she ran a minute on the treadmill,” said David, 32, whose sister Cheryl, 38, also competes in triathlons. “Within a little bit she did a 5K and kept building up. I gave her some basic plans when she did the shorter stuff. After a while I had her get some professional coaching from a coach I knew. It’s a complete transformation for her athletically and from a lifestyle standpoint.”

Sue and her husband, Ray, were in Kona, Hawaii, last month to watch David compete in the Ironman World Championship, although they will not return next year. Sue is turning down her berth in the race, but she is not slowing down.

“I’ll continue doing triathlons – I want to get stronger and faster,” Bartoszewski said. “I hope to do the Chicago Marathon next year and work toward qualifying for Boston.”

Bartoszewski already looks forward to four years from now when she will retire and have more time to train.

“I feel so much better,” Bartoszewski said. “At one of my first sprint-length triathlons, there was a woman 80 years old who finished. I said, ‘God willing, I’m going to be doing that too.’ I totally enjoy it.”

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