Diane Schaeffler got the message as a young child: You’re not an athlete.
Sadly, she believed it. Told that she had flat arches, she wouldn’t even run the bases during grade-school kickball games.
“I’d always ask for a runner,” recalled Schaeffler, who for most of her life took that same easy path – all the way to 247 pounds on a 5-foot-3 frame.
But now she’s a kid again, and doing her childhood one better. At the age of 56, Schaeffler is preparing for her first Half-Ironman triathlon.
“I just wish I had done it 25 years ago,” said Schaeffler, who’ll compete in Sunday’s event in Coeur d’Alene. That means 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running. Schaeffler is anxious – “I wish I had another two months to train,” she says – but she’s ready for the challenge.
Schaeffler’s story is typical. As an adult, her sports of choice were bowling, golf and softball – and the libations that go with them. Despite numerous fad diets, her weight steadily climbed.
The trend continued as Schaeffler worked in her home office for Ernst and Young. “I started eating real food,” said Schaeffler, whose no-nonsense diet helped her lose 60 pounds in 2013.
“What I learned about myself is that I needed accountability,” said Schaeffler, who lives in north Spokane with her husband Karl and teenage daughter Katelyn. “I needed accountability, to change one thing at a time.”
More importantly, she took the first baby steps toward middle-age fitness. Even as Schaeffler struggled to hold a plank position for three seconds, Russ Tacke “believed in me before I could believe in me,” she said. That same year, Tacke – of TNT Fitness in Spokane – pushed her into entering a 5-kilometer run at Mirabeau Park.
“Then he cleared his schedule and ran it with me – that was really nice,” said Schaeffler, who ran a 10K a few weeks later.
Schaeffler’s breakthrough came in 2014 in the Valley Girl Triathlon in 2014, a sprint event that includes a one-third-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run.
Previewing the bike course in her car, she freaked out at what looked like “San Francisco hills.” However, she surmounted her fears, finished the race – “I was so happy I flipped out after it was over,” she said – and looked ahead to 2015.
The highlight that year came at Priest Lake, an Olympic-distance event that taught Schaeffler “that I’m not a quitter.”
Cramping out the water after a 1,500-meter swim, she gutted out the 25-mile bike ride and openly “cried and moaned” through the 6.2-mile run.
“I could have said ‘forget it,’ but I didn’t,” said Schaeffler, who also trained through sore knees as well as surgery for a non-cancerous tumor.
That winning attitude was fashioned not only by Tacke, but by Team Blaze, a Spokane-based triathlon club. From training sessions in all three disciplines to nutrition clinic and emotional support, “Team Blaze has been a great resource for me,” Schaeffler said.
Next up is the Half Ironman, which includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and a 13.2-mile run. In months of training, she’s done those distances many times over.
“Whatever challenges come up … you can still succeed,” Schaeffler said. “You may have to just make a few adjustments along your journey, but being patient, focused and driven I know I will get to my goal weight and continue living a healthy active lifestyle.”
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