LONGVIEW, Wash. – Patti Peterson doesn’t believe in aging.
That’s no surprise given that the 65-year-old Longview triathlete only seems to get faster and stronger with each passing year.
Peterson, who started competing in triathlons five years ago, is essentially still a rookie in the sport. But she’s also world-class.
Peterson placed ninth in the USA Triathlon-hosted Age Group Nationals mid-August in Omaha, Nebraska. It was just her third national competition. That qualified her to represent the United States for her age group in the 2018 World Triathlon Grand Final next September on the Gold Coast of Australia.
The competitions are Olympic distances: a 1-mile swim, 26-mile bike ride and 10-kilometer run.
Peterson has come a long way since her first triathlon, when she showed up to compete on a hybrid bicycle. The vast majority of 4,000 contestants rode sophisticated racing bikes, while hers was a basic model with straight handlebars.
She still remembers catching a skeptical look from one of her competitors.
“Oh honey, you’re riding that thing?” she remembers the woman asking.
“Well, I just blew her out of the water,” Peterson laughed. She placed 45th in the nation for her age group at her first event.
Peterson’s daughter, Sara Cameron of Longview, said that her mother instantly fell in love with the sport.
“She was hooked after the first one,” she said.
Cameron is her mother’s biggest cheerleader.
An athlete herself, Cameron competed on the Mark Morris High school varsity swimming team and went to the University of Idaho on a full swimming scholarship. Cameron said she appreciates how impressive it is for a person of Peterson’s age to continuously improve.
“Something that’s really amazed me about my mom is that she’s so incredibly disciplined and takes a look at areas she needs to improve in,” she said. “She’s able to analyze every single part of being a triathlete.”
Peterson said she jettisoned her entire training team last year after placing 22nd at nationals because she knew she could do better.
She found Gary Schauble, her new strength coach, while training at Forever Fit in Longview last October.
“Patti’s a different type of athlete,” Schauble said. “She had reached a plateau in her training and responded just as well as a 30-year-old would,” he said.
Peterson and Schauble now train together about three times per week. Peterson also sought out Monica Feigert, the swimming coach of Blaze Aquatics in Portland, to improve her swimming times.
“She’s trying to be very specific about what she needs to strengthen,” Cameron said.
Schauble helped Peterson break her training regimen down into five different phases. They start with low repetitions of a high weight and then begin to taper down with higher repetitions of a lower weight closer as an event draws near. The duo also incorporates plyometric training on the track at Kelso High School. Peterson runs and bikes about three times per week.
Her bike even has a name: Maui Girl. She settled on the name after skipping a trip to Maui in order to purchase it. Peterson said she relies on Bob’s Bike Shop in Longview for all of her cycling needs.
Schauble also helps Peterson with her diet.
“I always thought my diet was great,” Peterson said. “It’s not that I wasn’t eating enough food, I just wasn’t eating enough carbs,” she said.
Peterson said now she eats about once every two hours. Her diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, protein and some carbs, with big helpings of pasta before race day.
Peterson said she’s always been drawn to triathlons because they are varied.
“You don’t get bored, because you get to switch,” she said.
Peterson has some simple advice for other folks her age who are looking to get fit.
“Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks,” she said. “Just do what works for you. If you can only walk two blocks, then walk two blocks. Then shoot for three.”
Peterson’s supporters say one of the most enjoyable parts of watching her evolve as an athlete is witnessing her achieve the lofty goals she’s set.
For her part, Peterson said it will be a dream come true to represent the United States at the world competition next September. She said she’s shooting for a top-three finish.
“My biggest secret is just to have fun,” she said. “That’s it, just enjoy the journey.”
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