This amazing woman completed her first Ironman at the age of 60 after beating cancer
Nearly thirty years ago, in 1989, Mary Houbolt knew something wasn't right when she found a suspicious lump in her breast. Concerned about her health, the software engineer went to the doctors, only to be told that she had a malignant form of cancer. Tragically, it had already spread to her lymph nodes by the time she caught it, meaning that her chances of survival were fairly low.
The prognosis was "life-shattering," Houbolt said in an interview with Runner's World.
"It wasn’t just fear about losing my own life," she said, “but leaving the lives of my children and husband in the lurch."
However, after a long and painful experience with aggressive treatments, Houbolt went into full remission. But, even so, she could not shake the feeling that she had come so close to death.
Decades later, in 2010, Houbolt celebrated her 60th birthday. Considering her brush with mortality earlier on in life, this was a landmark achievement for her, and she decided she wanted to mark it by doing something special. Something daring. Something a little bit mad.
Houbolt wanted to enter an Iron Man competition.
For those who aren't familiar: the Iron Man challenge is an endurance race which begins with a 2.4-mile swim, before moving on to a 112-mile bike ride, and finishing up with a literal marathon (26.2-mile run).
When she first started preparing, Houbolt wasn't entirely comfortable with every element. The cycling she was fine with, but swimming and running were two activities that the 60-year-old had her doubts about.
"I’m a mediocre runner," she said. "It bothers my hips and knees."
Nevertheless, she put her game face on and focused on why she was entering the competition in the first place. "I reminded myself how fortunate I was to still be around to try," she explained.
After a little more than a year of intense training, then, Houbolt was ready for the Iron Man Lake Placid. And it was a struggle from the offset.
"I was kicked and knocked and punched in the water," Houbolt explained. "It was like being in a washing machine."
But, while other people might have been deterred by such an uneasy start, Houbolt was not. She powered on, making it through the swim and the bike ride before approaching the marathon. By that point, she was already exhausted, but she wasn't going to give up.
Throughout the whole run, she kept telling herself that she just wanted to finish. Little did she know, however, that she would end up finishing top of her age group... which meant that she was automatically entered in the world championship.
"I was not prepared mentally," she recalled. "There I was, up against the best athletes in the world."
Amazingly, she smashed that challenge, too, and ended up coming third in her group.
With two successes under her belt, Houbolt realized that she didn't want to end her winning streak. She has since gone on to compete in many other high-endurance challenges and, now, at the age of 67, she has nine Iron Man victories to her name.
It just goes to show then, that even those who are beaten down to their very weakest can still pick themselves up and conquer worlds - even if they're in their 60s! Houbolt's achievements throughout the last decade have been truly amazing, and we hope that she goes on to compete in many more triathlons.