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Past Experience Propels Duathlete to National, World Titles


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patty peoplesOften times when individuals experience multisport, they fall in love and continue on in triathlon or duathlon for many years. This is the case with Patty Peoples, who first got her taste of multisport back in the early 1980s and since has reached the pinnacle of age-group competition. Peoples was named the 2011 Grand Masters Duathlete of the Year for her titles at USA Triathlon’s Duathlon Nationals and the ITU Short Course Duathlon World Championship, and is ready to race Saturday in the 2012 Duathlon National Championship.

“When that gun goes off, it’s high intensity the entire time,” Peoples said of her search of another title in the sprint-distance race. “Muscle memory comes back and I’m just out there trying to chase everybody down.”

Though many might recognize Peoples from her recent successes, it was her experience with sport in college that really set the ball in motion for her to accomplish bigger and better things. Growing up in a family with six siblings, Peoples did not participate in any sports in college and only joined the rugby team because the flyer claimed “no experience necessary.” She showed up at practice the first day and found that she loved the structure and the hard work required, so she stuck with it. She was a starter by the end of her first season and continued to play through all four years at the University of Maryland.

She was then introduced to multisport by her boyfriend at the time. Her first triathlon was the Oxford Triathlon – a 2-mile river swim, a 50-mile bike and a 20-mile run – and she finished as the 11th female overall. She remembers thinking, “I bet if I actually trained and took this seriously, I could be good.” She soon qualified for the Ironman in Hawaii, but was met with an interesting proposition. A friend suggested she try out for the 1984 Olympic squad in cycling, despite the fact that she had never done a bike race before. In her first cycling race, Peoples found that she not only enjoyed cycling events; she excelled.

“I love the bike,” Peoples said. “I love to fly on the bike. I feel fluid on the bike, I feel powerful on the bike.”

Not long after her first race, she was extended an invitation to train with the women’s national team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Peoples remembers showing up wearing red shorts – bright colors were common in triathlon from the beginning – and feeling very out of place among the rest of the team. “Back then, bike racing was black and white,” she said.

Whether she was riding with the national team, participating in the Olympic Trials in 1984 and 1988 or racing in the inaugural women’s Tour de France, Peoples was a team player. She even acted as a domestique on numerous occasions. Then, for a long time, she stopped racing competitively and spent her time focusing on her family and her career as a fitness teacher and coach.

In 1999, Peoples made her return to multisport after encouraging members of a spin class she taught to do a local race. From there, she began competing around her home of Redlands, Calif. She qualified and raced at the ITU Duathlon World Championship in 2009 in North Carolina, and she finished fourth in her age group. She then set her sights on a world championship. Overcoming a broken wrist and other challenges, she entered her 2011 season chasing age-group titles. Peoples realized that even though she was in her 50s, she could still be competitive and there were opportunities to participate in world-class competitions. “Age is not a limitation,” she said.

After winning the 55-59 age group at Duathlon Nationals in Tucson/Oro Valley, Ariz., Peoples traveled to Gijon, Spain, to compete in the 2011 ITU Duathlon World Championship. She was not too far behind the leaders on the first run, and knew that she had the prowess on the bike to catch them. Powering up the first hill, she passed 10 women and then overtook the leader. She was first off the bike and had logged the fastest bike split amongst all the women in the sprint-distance race. Peoples was overjoyed when she crossed the finish line, knowing that she had claimed the world title in her age group – a feat she had wanted to accomplish since she first started competing in sport in the early 80s.

Now, as she continues her journey in multisport, she focuses on her mantra for success, which she describes as a way for people to see their goals, believe in themselves and work hard to achieve their goals. She continues to teach fitness and wants to motivate those around her to do what they enjoy and have fun with it.

“I never let anybody tell me that I couldn’t do something,” Peoples said. “If you like it and you have passion, you should follow it. You will succeed if you set up your own goals.”

Video by Peter Obering.