September 10, 2013

Mainer's path of self-discovery leads to world triathlon in London

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

When Ann Dillon was about to turn 60, she wasn't ready to coast into retirement.

click image to enlarge

Beth Birch, left, and Ann Dillon, members of the U.S. triathlon team, train for the world sprint event in London. Photographed in Gray on September 7, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Beth Birch, left, and Ann Dillon, members of the U.S. triathlon team, train for the world sprint event in London. Photographed in Gray on September 7, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Recently divorced and emotionally bruised by the death of a close friend, she began working out regularly and hired a personal trainer to help her do it right. She had tried running before but had injured herself each time. She had cycled frequently in the past but stopped.

"I was really down and looking for guidance on how to get back into a healthy frame of mind and body," Dillon said. "Sixty sounded so old. I wanted to learn something new. I wanted to see what I could do physically."

Dillon's initial effort took her on a path of self-discovery and surprising accomplishment that led her to become one of the nation's top triathletes in her age group, excelling in the competition that features swimming, cycling and running.

Now 62, the North Yarmouth resident is a member of the U.S. team that will compete later this week in the grand finals of the 2013 World Triathlon Series in London. She's scheduled to fly out of Boston late Tuesday and compete just before noon on Friday.

To attend the competition, Dillon will take two paid personal days and three unpaid days from her position as a music teacher at North Yarmouth Memorial School and Greely Middle School. She's also the founder and former executive director of the Wescustago Youth Chorale.

She'll be traveling to London and competing with her teammate and former trainer, Beth Birch, 72, of New Gloucester, who has settled into more permanent roles as Dillon's mentor and friend.

Dillon and Birch are among several Mainers competing in the London finals, which include 12 events over five days. More specifically, they're among more than 5,000 amateur athletes scheduled to compete in the Standard and Sprint Distance Age-Group World Championships.

Dillon and Birch have signed up for the Sprint competition. Dillon is one of 16 U.S. women in the 60 to 64 age group. Birch is one of three U.S. women in the 70 to 74 age group.

They face a three-legged course in the heart of Hyde Park that features a 750-meter (half-mile) swim, a 20-kilometer (12-mile) bike ride and a 5-kilometer (3-mile) run. The course is comparable to other triathlons, Dillon said, but a bit more technical, including hairpin turns.

London will be Dillon's sixth triathlon and first international competition, after qualifying last year at a national event in Burlington, Vt. She finished in 1 hour, 41 minutes and 41 seconds.

Birch, who's something of a legend among Maine triathletes, has done more than 100 triathlons since she started competing in her 50s. This will be her fifth world event.

Given her experience as a competitor and trainer, Birch saw something in Dillon when she first started training with her at the Pineland YMCA in New Gloucester in 2010.

As Dillon set out to improve her cycling skills, Birch suggested that she consider training for a triathlon. Dillon initially recoiled at the thought of it.

"She came across as someone who had a lot of drive," Birch recalled. "But I dropped it because I could see it was too big of a concept for her."

Then Dillon heard about the Maine Cancer Foundation's Tri for a Cure fundraiser. She decided to participate in memory of a close friend, Betsy Tiemann of North Yarmouth, who died of breast cancer in 2009.

She started training and participated in her first triathlon, Tri for the Y, a fundraiser for the YMCA of Southern Maine, in May 2011. Her first performance gave her confidence to continue.

"When I won my age group, it was like, Oh my God, I can really do this," she recalled.

(Continued on page 2)

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