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Kona Age Group Excellence: Meet the ageless Sandi Wiebe

The oldest woman competing at the Ironman World Championship is a walking tribute to how much women's sports have changed over the years

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

When 73-year-old Sandi Wiebe did her first Ironman race in Penticton, B.C., Canada, she found the day so hard that she swore she would never do another one. Considering the training she’d done while juggling life as a mom, it’s hardly a surprise that the day back in 1996 was anything but easy.

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“I finished that (Ironman Canada) and I remember saying ‘never again,'” she said. “It was so hard. I didn’t have much cycling training, because my kids were so young. I used to put the kids to bed, then cycle in the garage on a trainer for two or three hours. It’s not the same as riding up Richter Pass or Yellow Lake. Fortunately I got a spot for Kona. I came to Kona and came to the realization that this is fun.”

It was just the beginning of a love of multisport training and racing.

“It’s a lifestyle for me,” Wiebe, who was born in Canada but now lives in Boulder, Colorado, said. “I never had sports growing up. My sport in college at the University of Saskatchewan, was curling. Seriously, I didn’t start running until I was 43, until after I had my daughter. Running, when I was a kid, was punitive. “Run laps.” It was punishment. Women didn’t run. Particularly in Canada – there was less sports for women than in the U.S. I took it up at 43 and discovered that I actually enjoyed it.

Her racing career began with the Jasper to Banff relay. She then turned her sights on the Portland Marathon. A friend who had done an Ironman convinced her to sign up for Ironman Canada. When she did that first race, her daughter, Meghan, was four.

Last year Wiebe was back in Penticton for the race again, this time accompanied by Meghan, who was competing in the women’s 30 to 34 age group.

“Part of staying in the sport as long as I have – Kona will be 39 (Ironman races) – is the fact that my daughter and I have raced together,” Wiebe said. “That is so much fun.”

Wiebe is both looking forward to a women’s-only race here in Kona and nostalgic about earlier times.

“It’s strange,” she said. “I raced her for years, going back to the days when we all started at the same time, including the pros. I’ve seen the evolution of it over the years. I miss having the men racing. It’s a little nicer not having all the testosterone in the swim, because that can be pretty chaotic. It’ll be interesting. I don’t know what to expect. My goal, as always, is just to cross that finish line. I don’t care how I do it.”

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Wiebe is looking forward to getting to the finish line on Saturday after a tough day last year.

“I’ve been racing in my 40s, my 50s, my 60s and now into my 70s,” she said. “I think if I can cross that finish line, it will be the finale of racing all those years. It means a lot to me to finish. I raced last year, but didn’t finish because I had issues with my back on the run and I had to drop at mile 11. It was hard, but I was losing time. So it feels like something unfinished, even though I’ve done 15 before. I want to go out with a finish.”

“I’ve only ever done this for fun and as a personal challenge,” Wiebe concluded. “There’s only one competitor that I’m interested in, and that’s me. Paying attention to what I’m doing. I really don’t care what anyone else does. The only person you have control of is yourself.”