— by Dan Dakin
It doesn’t matter if you’re 35 or 75, celebrating a big birthday for an age grouper means going from being the old dog to the young gun. “Moving up an age category is the only time you look forward to getting older,” 74-year-old Lynda Lemon says with a laugh.
The athlete from Welland, Ont., is a young gun at any age. After discovering the sport of triathlon at 46 years old, Lemon has spent nearly three decades making waves around the world. She’s been to the ITU Duathlon World Championships 14 times and the Triathlon World Championships 10 times. In those 24 appearances, she’s won four golds, three silvers and three bronzes. Not bad for someone who made her first World Championships at the age of 49. “The higher the level you compete at, the more competitive you get,” she says.
Multisport racing wasn’t actually what Lemon had her eyes on 28 years ago when she decided to take up a new hobby. “I got to the point where my sons didn’t need me as much and my career was settled, so I needed a challenge,” says Lemon. “I was going to start rowing, but a friend talked me into triathlon instead.” For the first ten years, she balanced working full time as a teacher and training whenever she could fit it in. That changed in 2001 when she retired and was able to put far more focus on her racing. She won ITU duathlon gold medals in 2004 (Belgium), 2009 (U.S.), 2010 (Scotland) and 2015 (Australia), with plenty of other hardware mixed in between.
Lemon continued to get faster as she got older – including setting a 5 km PB of 21 minutes at the age of 69. “I feel so fortunate to be able to do it at my age,” she says. “There are a few women who I got to know in the sport who are no longer with us, and some who can no longer compete or choose to no longer compete. Physically, they may be able to continue, but their egos are affected by the slowing times.”
Lemon acknowledges that slowing times are part of the sport for senior-aged racers, but she doesn’t focus on them. “I know that slowing is part of aging, but regardless of times, I’m going to keep going,” she says.
Also, part of the aging process is dealing with injuries, but Lemon has been fortunate to have had to deal with a few of them – arthritic hip and knees notwithstanding. The aging process has also meant not training as hard as she did in her younger years. “Instead of trying to cram everything in, I have more time now, and I think my focus has changed. I do less training. I go out for an 80 K ride now with friends rather than doing intervals,” says Lemon, who rides with the St. Catharines Cycling Club and competes in weekly Thursday night time trials.
She loves cycling and running, but isn’t a huge fan of swimming, which explains her tendency to choose duathlons over triathlons. Part of the issue is her slight body composition, which, when combined with her age, means water temperature can be an issue.
Competing at the Olympic-distance ITU World Championships in Rotterdam in 2017, she had to be pulled out of the water 500m short of the finish because of hypothermia. “We were in wetsuits, but were also in the North Sea. It’s the third time I’ve had hypothermia, and I’m sure I was zigzagging because it affects your head,” she said. Lemon didn’t compete in either the duathlon or triathlon world championships in 2018, but plans to race the sprint distance at the 2019 World Triathlon Championships in Switzerland. “I still want to win,” she says. “As long as I can physically continue, I will. There aren’t as many people in your age group at my age, but there’s always someone to beat. If there are no other women my age, then I try to beat the men or the women in an age group below me.”
Lemon has now been around the sport long enough to have other athletes start looking up to her. She recently had a duathlete in her 40s tell her she was the reason she got into the sport. “I was honoured and flattered,” she says.
And Lemon’s advice to others who may be considering taking up the sport at a more “mature” age? Just go for it. “Especially now with the try-a-tri option, it’s never too late,” she says. “It’s a good option to get started and maybe even just stay there competing in that distance.”
Dan Dakin is a freelance journalist based in St. Catharines, Ont.