September 10, 2013

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

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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

She did the Tri for a Cure that July, placing fifth out of 14 in her age group. Then she finished first in her age group in the 2011 Mainiac Triathlon, which qualified her for the nationals in Vermont last summer.

"It's been amazing to start running at 60 and have the success I've had in my age group," Dillon said.

The experience has been transformative for Dillon, as it is for many triathletes.

"I look very different," she said. "I have more muscle and less fat. I'm two sizes smaller and my clothes fit differently. And I have a lot more joy in my face and energy in my life.

"I don't know what 62 is supposed to feel like, but I feel younger than I did when I was 40."

She also pared down her lifestyle, recently selling the 1,800-square-foot house where she and her former husband raised their daughter, Mariah, 28, who works with children at risk in Santiago, Chile. She also sold many of her belongings and moved into a 900-square-foot condominium.

"I don't want to clean, mow and shovel snow," she said. "I want to swim, bike and run."

There's a huge spiritual component to being a triathlete, Dillon said, which makes her grateful for her own health and determination. At the same time, she's mindful of loved ones who haven't been so blessed.

Most recently, she's been inspired by her late sister Karen Pfaffenbach of East Hampton, Conn., who died unexpectedly in April of a heart attack and stroke at age 57.

Her sister's presence was palpable at the Tri for Preservation last month in Cape Elizabeth, where she came in second in her division.

"It was almost like I was connected to her while I was running and biking, and doing something she couldn't do," Dillon said. "They played the national anthem at the beginning of the event and I just started crying. Karen was right there in my heart."

Dillon's growth has impressed but not exactly surprised Birch. She has seen it happen often among triathletes, whose individual success depends on supporting one another in training and in competition. Oftentimes, just finishing means winning.

"You learn you can rely on others for support," Birch said. "You come to realize, 'If I can do this, there are plenty of other things I can tackle.'"

Triathletes also learn to break down a competition into component parts, so it's not such an overwhelming challenge.

"It's a strategy that works in all areas of life," Birch said. "Taking things one step at a time."

Birch said she's proud of Dillon and looking forward to sharing the world competition experience with her friend and former pupil, including the opening ceremony Wednesday night and the closing ceremony Sunday night.

Dillon said she's looking forward to the opening ceremony, too, especially the Parade of Nations, though she's not expecting to place in the competition.

"It's just going to be so thrilling to walk in a parade of athletes from all over the world," she said. "It's going to be so powerful."

 

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

 

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