Redefining Longevity in our Sport

by USA Triathlon Foundation

Donna Smyers poses for a photo with the finish line of a National Championships race in the background.
Donna Smyers

Donna Smyers spent the weekend cross-country skiing in Vermont’s backcountry on Saturday and going on a long run on Sunday. She loves endurance sports and she’s been doing what she loves for 50 years.

But not all women have been as lucky as Donna. Title IX was implemented in Donna’s high school her senior year and that’s when opportunities for young women to add “athlete” to their identities really took hold.

“The number of women in their 50s, 60s, 70s doing the sport, and doing it well, has climbed dramatically, and I credit that to Title IX,” Donna said. “Celeste Callahan, Peggy McDowell-Cramer and women like them are the true trailblazers in our sport. They were doing things that others weren’t doing. I’m still following in their footsteps all these years later.”

Count Donna as one of those women doing it well. This past year she broke the course record for 65–69-year-old women to take home the age-group world championship at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona and won the age group world championships at IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in St. George, finished second at World Triathlon Draft-Legal Sprint World Championships, took first and second in the Olympic-distance and sprint Age Group National Championships, respectively, and was first at IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii.

All that success earned Donna the 2022 USA Triathlon Celeste Callahan Great Grand Masters Athlete of the Year Award.

The award is named in honor of Callahan, a pioneer in the women’s multisport community, longtime leader within USA Triathlon governance and a frequent member of Team USA for ITU duathlon and triathlon world championships and winner of multiple world championships medals. She was the recipient of the first-ever International Triathlon Union Women’s Committee Award of Excellence, a charter member of the USA Triathlon Women’s Committee, a USA Triathlon Level II Coach and Level II Race Director, and founder and leader of the 500-member Team CWW, which focuses on introducing women to triathlon in Colorado.

Donna may not consider herself a pioneer compared to women who were participating in sport in the 70s and early 80s, but there is no question Donna is blazing a new trail and redefining what longevity in triathlon means for women.

The USA Triathlon Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the charitable arm of USA Triathlon. With its mission to transform lives through sport by providing opportunities to swim, bike and run, the Foundation serves to generate a greater impact on the multisport community through charitable giveback and grants that advance the Foundation’s three pillars: (1) Encourage youth participation; (2) Inspire pathways to access and inclusion; and (3) Ignite Olympic/Paralympic dreams. Since the Foundation was established in 2014, it has impacted the lives of thousands by providing grants to organizations and individuals in pursuit of its mission and pillars to create a healthier United States through triathlon.