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Aquathlon Competitor Shares How She Stays in Top Shape

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Longtime Austinite and world traveler Sharon Smith merges two sports to spice up her workout.

Story and photo by Gretchen M. Sanders 

Sharon Smith had grown tired of swimming laps. She’d been doing it for decades. One day about three years ago, the former University of Texas swimmer joined an Austin running group and discovered she could fly. Soon, Smith combined her two sports and competed in a local aquathlon. When she beat people half her age, she knew she’d found her niche.

As Smith raced faster athletes at national and international competitions, her medal tally mounted.

In July, the 60-year-old traveled to Denmark to compete in the aquathlon at the Multisport World Championships Festival. Smith had to qualify to get there. A 1-kilometer swim in the Baltic Sea preceded a 5-kilometer run through Middelfart, a small Danish town outside Odense, the city where Hans Christian Andersen grew up. Smith won first place in her age group, beating women from Brazil, Australia, Great Britain and Canada.

“I love the international draw of this event,” she says.

The business manager of a farm in South Texas, Smith speaks six languages and has no qualms about traveling alone. After the aquathlon, with a gold medal in hand, she toured the countries that border the Baltic Sea: Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden.

Folk dancing in St. Petersburg showed her a brighter side of Russia. A KGB museum in Estonia that houses old espionage equipment recalled a bygone era. Farmers markets stocked with Nordic fruits and old cities with cobblestone streets reminded Smith of words Hans Christian Andersen wrote long ago: “To travel is to live.”

Here’s how this multisport champ keeps topping the podium.

THE A.M.:

“I wake up at 5 a.m. if I’m planning to swim. Then I make coffee, bring in my morning paper, check emails and read the news if time permits.”

THE WORKOUT:

“I swim Masters five to six times a week at either Lost Creek Country Club or UT and do about four runs with Austin Runners Club. We run in Northwest Hills on Mondays, do track workouts on Tuesdays, have tempo work on Thursdays and run long on Saturdays. I try to do yoga twice a week and strength training with hand weights at least once. I have a battery-powered stationary bike at home, so I’ll get on that for about an hour every week and do paperwork or read while I spin out my legs. It’s a lot of activity, but it works for me.”

THE DIET:

“I try not to put any restrictions on myself. Coffee, water and wine are definitely part of my diet, and I like my carbs, so I eat a lot of cereal and PowerBars, which are easy to digest before swimming. On long runs, I’ll take energy gels. I used to cook when my kids lived at home, but I don’t do it much anymore. I keep things simple by making eggs and salads or picking up some thing that’s already prepared—pizza, pasta, chicken.”

THE GEAR:

“The water temperature in Denmark was about 60 degrees Fahrenheit! I wore a full-length wetsuit over an International Triathlon Union-approved swimsuit made by Roka. As I exited the water, I peeled off my wetsuit and swim cap while holding my goggles and quickly threw on my race bib and Saucony Kinvara running shoes. The whole transition took a minute and 29 seconds. I’m usually faster!”

THE MOTIVATION:

“I wanted to be on that podium in Denmark. I’ve always loved to swim, but after so many years, the times don’t drop; they go the other way. Running is newer to me, and that’s where I see the improvement. The real motivation to do aquathlons is the opportunity to meet new people in the running community and to compete and succeed in a new event. I wanted to change it up.”

THE MINDSET:

“Be your best. Do your best. Keep it interesting.”

THE P.M.:

“I feed and walk my dogs and have a late dinner while watching the news. I may finish some work that I didn’t complete earlier in the day. I usually go to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight. I have no problem falling sleep.”

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