No stop­ping Iron­gran

Mother of three and grand­mother of four, Ed­die Brock­lesby is fo­cus­ing on com­plet­ing her sev­enth Iron­man next week in Mex­ico. Mar­garet Jen­nings speaks to the in­spi­ra­tional 75-year-old

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

IT’S still called the Iron­man, from when the en­durance–test­ing triathlon was orig­i­nally staged in Hawaii in 1978. But 75-year-old Ed­die Brock­lesby, who has suc­cess­fully com­pleted six of what is widely con­sid­ered one of the most dif­fi­cult one-day sport­ing events in the world, in the past nine years, can jus­ti­fi­ably claim the ti­tle Iron­gran.

The Bri­tish mother of three and grand­mother of four, is cur­rently fo­cus­ing on com­plet­ing her sev­enth Iron­man next week in Cozumel, Mex­ico. Just con­sider the chal­lenge: a 3.86 km (2.4-mile) swim, a 180.25 km (112-mile) bi­cy­cle ride, and a marathon 42.20 km (26.22-mile) run — raced in that or­der, and with­out a break.

“I should be called mad-gran, not Iron­gran,” Ed­die tells Feel­good. And when asked what her 20-year-old self would have to say about how her ex­tra­or­di­nary sport­ing life has panned out, she replies “ut­ter dis­be­lief”.

Con­sid­er­ing Ed­die only took up run­ning at age 50 to in­crease her bone den­sity be­fore menopause, be­cause a doc­tor ad­vised her to do so, there is hope for us all.

And that is a mes­sage she brings across in her book, pub­lished ear­lier this year, called Iron­gran: How Keep­ing Fit Taught Me That Grow­ing Older Needn’t Mean Slow­ing Down, in which she looks back at her life and shares the chal­lenges she has faced per­son­ally and dur­ing her sport­ing en­deav­ours.

It seems slow­ing down has never been on this awe-in­spir­ing woman’s agenda, how­ever.

With a 50-year-ca­reer in so­cial work be­hind her, and hav­ing spent the last two decades par­tic­i­pat­ing in marathons, triathlon, duathlon and Iron­man events across the globe, she also founded a char­ity called Sil­ver­fit five years ago, to or­gan­ise fit­ness classes for older peo­ple.

“Phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity is the great­est killer of peo­ple of my age as it’s a pre­cur­sor of ill­ness and de­pen­dency. I re­alised the many ben­e­fits of sports as we age in terms of health and al­le­vi­at­ing so­cial iso­la­tion,” she says. “Sil­ver­fit has been far more suc­cess­ful than we thought pos­si­ble and is now in 17 venues in Lon­don. I would love to ex­pand more widely, but need to find fund­ing for core staff.”

Apart from her iron-like phys­i­cal strength, Ed­die ob­vi­ously has a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion as well as re­silience and en­ergy. At the age of 56, for in­stance, 10 years be­fore her first Iron­man, she could barely swim: “I couldn’t do the crawl at all and only a min­i­mal breast­stroke — keep­ing my head above wa­ter like all women of my age, be­cause you couldn’t get your hair wet and ‘catch a chill’.”

But she per­se­vered. And that de­ter­mi­na­tion is en­cap­su­lated also in her re­sponse to her tooth fall­ing out when, at age 60, she was run­ning in the Lon­don Marathon; she picked it up and car­ried on. Two years later, in the midst of her high-oc­tane sport­ing ca­reer, she also re­ceived her PhD, based on a decade of re­search with adop­tive fam­i­lies with whom she had been work­ing.

The death of her beloved hus­band Phil from cancer in 1994 still re­mains with her. “Phil’s cancer came on so quickly. He had surgery to re­move a tu­mour in his colon just be­fore our 30th wed­ding an­niver­sary, but by No­vem­ber we were told the cancer had spread to his pan­creas and he had less than six months to live. In fact, he had only three weeks.

“I can still re­mem­ber our fi­nal aw­ful, des­o­late sleep­less night to­gether: Just the two of us as Phil drifted in and out of con­scious­ness. At 1pm af­ter one fi­nal big hug, it was over. I re­solved to make the most of the fu­ture.”

Run­ning with her friends be­came her ther­apy and now she says: “I was the lucky one in 1994 when my hus­band died. It still mo­ti­vates me at times of stress — to live for to­day.”

For any of us who might think we are ‘too old’ or ‘not fit enough’, it’s worth men­tion­ing that Ed­die, who is the old­est Bri­tish woman to have com­pleted an Iron­man, has had torn lig­a­ments in both knees and suf­fers with arthri­tis.

What would she say to any of us want­ing to make a start at get­ting fit? “Take it steadily, build up slowly, try and find oth­ers to join a jour­ney to more phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity — look for fun ac­tiv­i­ties. It is the so­cial side of con­nect­ing, hav­ing the chat and the cup of tea, that keeps our Sil­ver­fit­ters com­ing back.”

In the build-up to the Iron­man, as well as work­ing “flat out 60 hours per week” as CEO for the char­ity, she has been putting in 20-25 hours’ train­ing — but is eas­ing off as she gets closer to the date.

And does she have spe­cific goals? “The last Iron­man took me 16 hours 6 mins. My tar­get is to beat the cut-off time, which will be mid­night. But as long as the wa­ter is not too choppy it is a fan­tas­tic swim, one di­rec­tion — hope­fully with the cur­rent be­hind me, over the most fan­tas­tic co­ral reef.”

It’s a far cry from not want­ing to get her hair wet al­most two decades ago.

STEELY DE­TER­MI­NA­TION: Ed­die Brock­lesby founded Sil­ver­fit five years ago, a char­ity that or­gan­ises fit­ness classes for older peo­ple.

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