P.J. Jarvis was a former collegiate athlete when she first heard about the Valley Girl. She liked the idea of doing a triathlon since she was already biking and running and liked to swim.
Peggy Barton had one triathlon under her belt when she read about the Liberty Lake event. Training at the Spokane Club she’d competed in an indoor triathlon and the thought of doing one outdoors was appealing.
Judy Beatty was retired and living in Bremerton. She’d struggled to find an exercise regimen that she could stick to when she discovered the Kitsap TriBabes, a group of women who competed in triathlons. One of them had competed in one of the first Valley Girl Triathlons and loved it, so the group decided to trek across the mountains and give it a try together.
All three women will be on hand Sunday in Medical Lake. Jarvis had not competed in the last two events due to injury and will work the registration desk and help orient competitors. Barton, too, is sitting out due to an injury, but she plans to help out in the transition area and offer support and encouragement to other athletes. Beatty, 78, is one of the oldest athletes competing.
The 16th annual Valley Girl Triathlon, which moved to Medical Lake from Liberty Lake last year, will be the final running of the area’s first women-only triathlon. Over its first 15 years more than 12,000 women completed its 0.45-mile swim, 10-mile bike ride and 3-mile run.
In 2003 the only women-only race was a Seattle race sponsored by Danskin.
“The Seattle race was much bigger but it had the same kind of feel as the Valley Girl,” Beatty said. “But the Valley Girl was more fun.”
Registrations have slowly declined, event organizer Marla Emde has said, and it’s time to move on.
“This has been such a great event,” Barton said. “I am really going to miss it. I understand why Marla wants to move on. But I hope something like it comes along because it’s been just a wonderful experience.”
Barton has been one of the best in her age group, and she was especially looking forward to competing in this final event.
“I’m 65, and I’m now in a whole new age group this year,” she said. “I really wanted to see if I could win it!”
Barton took up competition in her mid-50s as a way of combating full-blown osteoporosis.
“I was totally self-trained when I started out,” she explained. “I was in shape, but I wasn’t really toned if you understand what I mean. I wasn’t training for anything in particular.”
When she signed up for the first Valley Girl, she took advantage of the series of training seminars put on by Emde and co-organizer Robin DeRuwe, part of their effort to both educate and encourage women to try something new.
“They covered a lot about training and about what to expect,” Barton said. “And I used my internet connection to read everything I could about triathlons. It was a little intimidating at first, but it turned out to be a great experience.”
Jarvis lives in Liberty Lake, just a couple blocks off the course at the time, when she heard about the inaugural running.
“I had just moved back to Spokane after a few years away,” Jarvis explained. “I was already doing a lot of biking with some other girls. I was doing some running, and I was always a swimmer. It just made sense to give it a try.
“I just really enjoyed the atmosphere. It was social and at the same time you could be very competitive. I can be super competitive, but at the same time I still run into people in the grocery store from the race, and they always say, ‘Hi.’ ”
Beatty said she has found social connections through the race.
“What I liked so much about it was that it always has been welcoming and definitely friendly,” she said. “It’s much friendlier than the coed races I’ve done. Even though we’re all the way over there, across the state, I know we’re going to run into a group of athletes from Bellevue.”
Beatty didn’t discover triathlons until she was 64 and now competes with her sister, Jerri Kaeser.
“My sister calls us adult-onset athletes,” she joked.
Barton and Jarvis both used the Valley Girl as a springboard to other triathlons. Each has competed at Olympic distances (1.5 kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run).
“I don’t really think I would have tried doing a triathlon without the Valley Girl,” Jarvis said. “I can’t say that for sure because someone else might have tried to talk me into giving one a try.”
Said Barton: “The Valley Girl really set the seed for me to continue. It really gave me the bug to see just how far I could go. I’m 65 now and I started doing these when I was 55. I did really well and that was a great incentive to keep going. It made me want to really stay in shape and it’s been a great goal.”
The greatest legacy of the race, however, came in one of the early years, she said.
“One of the great things Marla has always done is that she never starts the awards ceremony until after everyone finishes the race,” she recalled. “There was one woman who was struggling to finish, and she was going slow. Another lady stayed behind to stay with her. As she came to the finish line everyone was behind that woman. Everyone was clapping and cheering for her.
“It’s the whole supportive atmosphere that really helps get women out to do this. You hear it the whole race. You pass someone, and they’re always cheering you on – ‘You can do this! You can do this! Come on! Come on!’”
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