By Rob Potter
WURTSBORO January 1, 2008 Like thousands of other people who visit Hawaii each year, Jean Norton really enjoyed her recent trip to the 50th state.
And like those thousands of other visitors, Norton, who resides in Wurtsboro, spent plenty of time taking in the island’s beautiful scenery and weather. She swam in the Pacific Ocean and rode her bike and went for a run along roads that wound through some lava fields and mountains.
But when Norton was swimming, biking and running in Hawaii, she was doing so with thousands of other elite athletes from the U.S. and beyond.
Norton was among the 1,500 athletes who competed in the 2007 Ford® Ironman® Triathlon World Championship. The event took place on October 13 in Kona, Hawaii.
The competitors began their day with a 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean. Upon returning to shore, they got on their bikes for a 112-mile ride. Following the ride, they ran a full marathon of 26.2 miles.
“It was a great experience,” Norton said. “It was one of the highlights of my life.”
Norton finished the event in a time of 13 hours and 52 minutes. She placed 40th among the women in her age group.
“I did OK,” she said.
She noted that race day was hot, with the temperature hovering around 92 degrees.
“But it felt like it was about 110 [degrees] while I was riding my bike,” Norton said.
In addition to the heat, wind gusts of up to 50 mph made it difficult for Norton and her fellow competitors to keep their bikes on course.
Norton said that competing in the Ironman® has been one of her goals for a long time. A runner in middle school and high school, she left the sport for a few years before taking it up again in 1993. During the next few years, she joined the Orange Runners Club and the Sullivan Striders Running & Walking Club.
Since returning to the sport of running, Norton has competed in hundreds of 5K runs, 10K runs and half-marathons throughout the Hudson Valley.
Once she decided to participate in the 2007 Ironman®, Norton increased her training. Following advice offered by other triathletes, she slightly decreased training in her best event running to focus more on the other two events biking and swimming.
“I trained a lot in the water because I’m not a great swimmer,” Norton said.
After months of intense training, Norton still had to earn a spot in the Ironman®. In order to do so, she had to be among the top three finishers in her age group at one of the 15 Ironman® qualifiers.
Norton earned her trip to Hawaii by placing third in the 40-44 Female category last July at a qualifying event in Lake Placid. She was 63rd coming out of the water and 10th after the bike ride, but moved past the woman in third at the 18-mile mark and held that position until she crossed the finish line.
She placed in the top 30 of overall finishers at Lake Placid with a time of 11 hours, 30 minutes.
While very excited to take third in the 40-44 Female division, Norton was also happy to have redeemed herself. She unsuccessfully tried to secure a spot in the Ironman® at a half-marathon qualifying event the previous month in Cambridge, Md.
“I had a horrible race,” she said of the June event in Cambridge.
Norton explained that she began to suffer from severe dehydration during the race. She continued to compete and crossed the finish line, but that was long after the top three women in her category had finished.
She had just a few weeks to recover from that competition before the Lake Placid qualifier. But Norton used her incredible will and determination in order to score a top-three age group finish in Lake Placid.
After celebrating her 45th birthday in August, Norton competed in the 45-49 Female category in Kona. She noted that is “the hardest age group.”
Norton said she received a tremendous amount of support and encouragement from family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers as she pursued her goal of competing in the Ironman®.
That team of supporters starts with her husband, Bill, and her three children: Rachel, who is a college student, John, a senior at Monticello High School, and 4-year-old Luke.
Norton works full-time as an RN at the Ulster County Prison in Napanoch. She noted that her fellow nurses and supervisors have been very helpful in keeping her work schedule flexible so she has time for training and events.
Naturally, fellow members of the Orange Running Club and Sullivan Striders also encouraged Norton in her quest to qualify for the Ironman®.
“They all have been behind me 100 percent,” she said.
Although Bill and Luke were able to fly to Hawaii to cheer for Norton at the Ironman®, her training and event schedule takes away from her family time. In 2008, she is going to scale back her race schedule.
“This year, I want to spend some more time with my family,” Norton said. “They have really supported me, so I want to be there for them a little more.”
Among the events in which Norton plans to participate later this year are the Mooseman Half Triathlon in Bristol, N.H. in June and the New York City Marathon in November.
While she will not be among those elite athletes in the 2008 Ford® Ironman® Triathlon World Championship, Norton said she fully intends to compete in the event again to attempt to better her time and place. She may try to qualify for the 2009 Ironman®.
“I am a very competitive person,” Norton said. “I like to be good at whatever I do. The competitive drive is like a switch once you turn it on, you can’t turn it off.”