CLEARWATER, Fla. – Sandy Meneley is not slowing down with age – she's picking up speed.
On Nov. 14, the former Pesotum resident finished third in the World Championship 70.3 Ironman competition for the 60-64 age group in the female division.
Meneley, 62, finished the half-Ironman, a 70.3-mile endurance triathlon race, held in Clearwater, in 5 hours, 44 minutes. The race includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56 miles on a bike and 13.1 miles of running.
Jeff Fejfar, a Memphis Thunder Racing Triathlon teammate, said Meneley is quite the inspiration.
"Sandy really shows each of us that even as you age, you don't have to stop being physically fit and can continue to compete as an athlete," he said. "Everyone on the team aspires to remain as active as she is – and attain even a fraction of her racing success."
After 26 years of running marathons and 12 years of coaching track and cross-country in the Unity school district, Meneley feels that running is her strongest leg of the event. She had the fastest time among the top three finishers in that part of the Clearwater race.
Meneley's daughters were monitoring her progress on the race Web site at home and calling in updates to their father, Fuzz, at the race.
"I could not believe it when my husband told me I was third coming out of the bike," she said.
Meneley had thought that she was behind all of her competitors, because she couldn't see any of them at that point.
The running portion is the final leg, but the mammoth Memorial Causeway bridge was still to be conquered. The bridge has a steep upgrade to let ships pass under without a drawbridge.
The Ironman competitors were required to cross the bridge four times during the 6-mile looped course. Meneley said she dreaded the bridge the most, but found the physical and mental energy to keep going.
"I had so many people helping me from far and near," she said. "That helps so much."
The 70.3 World Championships are just miles away from Meneley's current home on Anna Maria Island. At first, she thought she would like to volunteer at the event, and then started thinking about qualifying to compete.
Meneley had finished second in her first full 140.6 Ironman event in November 2008. She entered a qualifying event in Augusta, Ga., in September and qualified with a time of 6 hours, 11 minutes.
Meneley says she loves the hours of training most, but the competition events give her a goal to work toward and test her abilities.
When giving advice for other older adults on staying active, she borrows a quote from Coca Cola CEO Doug Iverson: "Never let your memories be greater than your dreams."
Meneley is dreaming of competing in the 140.6 World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
"I've been blessed with good health and haven't been injured," she said. To qualify she would need to win her age group in another full Ironman event. "It takes about nine months to train for the full Ironman. ... We'll see."