Joy Magazine

Never too old

Local doctor runs her first triathlon on her 65th birthday
A poster of Dr. Shirley Malcolm crossing the finish line of the Lavaman Triathlon on her 65th birthday hangs in her office.Courtesy of Shirley Malcolm

Though Gold Hill resident Shirley Malcolm always has been physically active, the looming thought of turning 65 prompted her to aim high. So last year she began training for her first-ever athletic event: the Lavaman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, featuring a mile swim, 25-mile bike leg and a 10K run.

"Turning 65 was kind of a wake-up call for me," Malcolm explains.

Trainer's tips

Triathlete and personal trainer Jodi Marthaller offers some pointers on finding a way to stay passionate about fitness no matter how old or out of shape you might be.

1. Have fun

Finding an activity or sport that is truly enjoyable is the key to staying committed, Marthaller says.

"You really have to find something that's going to be fun for you to do, not something you'll do or suffer through just to lose weight, then not do anymore," Marthaller says.

"It should be something where you feel like, 'This will be part of my life.' "

2. Start small

If you're physically inactive, don't start with a marathon, Marthaller says.

"If you know, today, that to walk out to your car and back is a new thing, start there. Don't overwhelm yourself to begin with."

3. Set realistic goals

Perhaps most importantly, enjoy the sport for the sake of feeling better and doing something you love.

"If it's been 10 years since you've worked out, you have to remind yourself that it wasn't overnight that you got into that shape," Marthaller says.

"It may take you that long to get back, but be smart with how you take your body through the different steps and be patient with yourself. A lot of people want to see results right now, but it's really sort of a journey that you go on."

A busy Rogue Valley doctor, Malcolm enjoyed cycling in her younger years, and she has remained committed to horseback rising and working out on a fairly regular schedule.

"I'd gone into residency, and I'm a doctor, so it's a busy lifestyle," she says.

"How I got triggered onto the triathlon and getting started again was by joining Superior gym (in Medford), and I was really enjoying their spin class. I met a couple who helped with the class, and they said you ought to come on a bike ride with us."

An Iowa native who came to Southern Oregon two decades ago, Malcolm loved the outdoors and envisioned remaining active in her later years. Once, she'd even participated in a ride across Iowa, but a triathlon seemed daunting. Malcolm's cycling buddies, Wayne and Jodi Marthaller, gave her the final nudge to enter a triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

"Wayne said to me, 'Come on the triathlon with us in April.' " Malcolm recalls.

"I asked what day it was, and it was on April 1 — April Fools' Day — my birthday! It just really struck me: what a wonderful undertaking to do something that seems so outlandish at age 65 because, at that point in time, I wasn't running or swimming. I had just started out the biking again.

"After I signed up, they opened up 200 more spaces, and those filled within the first half-hour."

Between last winter and April Fools' Day, Malcolm increased her workouts from an hour a day five days per week to two hours per day.

Jodi Marthaller, a personal trainer at Superior Athletic Club and a teacher at Southern Oregon University, remembers Malcolm's determination.

"When she came to me 30 pounds ago and said, 'I want to do a triathlon,' I thought, Um, OK.

"She said, 'I know how to swim. I'm not really a runner, but I can walk. And I go to bike class.' I thought, 'Well, bike class is a little different than being outdoors in a race, but it's a start. So I gave her a plan, and she really stuck to it."

Marthaller helped Malcolm focus on the building blocks of making physical changes and establishing a solid foundation, then increasing her stamina and speed.

Once in Hawaii, Marthaller recalls the only time she saw a look of concern on Malcolm's face.

"We went out and swam in the ocean one day to observe the racecourse, and you could see her eyes get really big, and she was probably thinking, 'What'd I get myself into?' " Marthaller says.

But Malcolm was determined to meet her goals and cross the finish line on her 65th birthday.

"It was the greatest feeling to have set this goal and to know that I accomplished it," Malcolm says.

Now Malcolm is looking for bigger goals.

"The number 65 is kind of a loaded number. When you reach that number, you kind of go, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm not half done anymore. I'm 65!' I have to give up the term middle-aged. I see myself as a healthy person, and I'm getting healthier, but you really have to keep striving toward physical fitness and quality of life when you get to these upper birthdays!"

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at

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