It was a comfortable and modern holiday house with large picture windows overlooking the pink sandy beach on the Coromandel in New Zealand. My favorite way to enjoy a holiday. Hmmm ... how delicious, relaxing on a soft lounge and reading the interesting Next magazine. Does it get any better than this?

A story about an event caught my eye. The Triwoman Series in NZ. This seems unique I thought. These Triathlons for women run throughout NZ in March and April each year. The women compete with themselves not each other. How wonderful is that? As I read on, I was convinced that the 300-metre swim, 10km bike ride and, the 3km walk were doable.

The April event was to be held in Christchurch.

My holiday ended and on my return home to Oz, I bit the bullet and paid my $60 registration fee ... What was I thinking?? Family and friends were skeptical to say the least and not without good cause. Not only am I unfit I am certainly not an outdoorsy person.

Well, I've committed now. I set the alarm for 5.00am the next morning and wondered how I would drag myself out of bed. Did I mention I'm not a morning person?

Surprise! Surprise! I jumped happily out of bed (the hot humid weather helped), donned my swimmers and I was off to the ocean baths for a swim in the dark.

I put my toe in the water as half a dozen blokes in their budgie smugglers were doing serious laps. Am I out of place or what? Where are all the 70 yr. old women like me? If they've any sense they are still home in bed!

Fortunately, one of my daughters had reminded me if you're going through hell, keep going. I struggled along touching bottom a few times to catch my breath and completed the length of the pool. Whew! That's 100metres I know I can do. Feeling very proud of myself - my training had started, I came home and had breakfast. By the time I had done this every day for a week I was able to do 300m without stopping. Next, I added the walk - half a kilometre to start with then up to 1km - by the time I had been training daily for three weeks I was up to 300m swim and 3km walk. Then off to a coffee shop for a cuppa with a fantastic group I discovered who have been swimming and walking every day for thirty years, and they are mostly an older group around my age.

Now for the bike. How would I do that? First thing buy some good shoes - I found some lovely sparkly purple sports shoes that looked the part. Then off to buy a bike and helmet and guess what? Purple of course. I was looking pretty darn spiffy - just one teeny problem ... I was terrified of the damn bike. Every time I got on it my heart pounded as if it would burst and then I'd fall off! However, I do believe that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks so off to the track and onto the bike to pedal a few metres all the while explaining to passers by that "I'm a learner" In other words, 'keep clear please give me plenty of space'

The April event was looming closer and closer and still my heart pounded. Still I was falling off this terrifying contraption. What to do? I'd paid my registration; I'd paid my air fare to Christchurch and I was all set. Off I went. I checked into a friendly backpackers supposedly near the Event Centre, though it turned out to be an hour and a half walk away. I arrived at the Event Centre out of breath and overwhelmed by the size of the place. It had been built for the Commonwealth Games and was huge. It had athletic fields, a golf course, sports fields, ornamental lakes, a gym, polo pool, diving pool, lap pool, a huge recreational water feature plus fantastic change rooms and child care facilities. After the Duty Manager gave me a tour of the facility and found out why I was there and my age (71) he was so impressed he gave me two free passes so I could have a couple of orienting swims in the two days before the event - you beauty!

The big day dawned -

Did I have butterflies? Yes!

Did they fly in formation? No!

I arrived at the grounds at 7.30am for an 8.30am start. It was a brisk 10-degree morning as hundreds of women and their supporters started arriving. I explained to the officials that I was a danger to life and limb on a bike. Quickly the bike leg was deleted and my registration adjusted. I proceeded to the area assigned for our bags and bikes. Claimed a space for myself, settled my bags and watched as the numbers of bikes and people swelled. Several times I was asked to move by people who had assumed I was just an onlooker or saving the space for a friend. I kept explaining that this was my space and my number was 205.

Steadily the excitement was building. Finally, we heard our call to gather for the safety brief and quick warm up exercises. Then made our way to the indoor heated pool.

What a colourful scene as 215 women in pearly pink caps wound their way around the pool. Climbing the stairs to the stands I moved to my left to a seat. Without my glasses I was unable to see that the floor changed levels at that point and down I went - no worries nothing broken just shaken not stirred.

Each woman had been assigned a letter of the alphabet. When their letter was called out those women lined up along the edge of the pool ready to swim.

I had the letter 'H' so I had quite a wait before the starters gun sent me on my way. How slow I was became clear when all 214 women finished and I still had two laps to go. Some officials even started taking down the ropes around me while others kept encouraging me on ... I remembered my mantra 'If you're going through hell keep going'. With poor vision and poor hearing, it was a challenge, till finally the finishing steps were in sight and I pulled myself out to the cheers of the two remaining officials! Now to dry off, put some clothes on and head for the walk. My swim was so slow that the cycling had already finished. The walking track wound through beautiful woodland and the women were all so encouraging that it seemed to go very quickly and almost magically I found myself walking amid cheers down the finishing line to be greeted by an official who presented me with an unexpected gold medal round my neck. WOW! And WHEW!

I sent a text to my daughters 'Got the Gold home tomorrow'

(ps I came 200 out of 215)

Joan McCarthy ©