Memories from Meredith Atwood and the triathlon community as we mourn the sudden passing of author Bethany Rutledge on Aug. 3, 2019.
On Aug. 3, 2019, the world lost thirty-seven-year-old Bethany Rutledge—wife, daughter, friend, inspiration, coach and mom to almost one-year old twin boys. In a post by her husband, John, our community learned that she laid down for a nap, and just did not wake up.
Bethany was a pillar of the Atlanta, Georgia (and beyond) triathlon community. She was a writer for Triathlete, and author of Courage to Tri. But so much more than her accomplishments, Bethany was an encouraging force of nature and joy to everyone she met. She was known for her kindness, compassion, encouraging spirit not only in triathlon, but in her personal relationships and the online writing community. Recently, she was seen on Twitter encouraging other writers (“anyone with fewer than a million followers!”) to follow each other and support each other’s efforts.
“Bethany believed in people more than anyone I ever met,” said her friend, Kathryn Taylor. “She was passionate about triathlon and specifically using triathlon as a vehicle to help people believe in themselves. No one who met Bethany was immune—you somehow walked away believing you could accomplish whatever you wanted.”
Bethany and her husband, John, attended an Atlanta Triathlon Club (ATC) event in 2009 that introduced them to the sport of triathlon—and forever changed their lives. The couple would go on to race together all around the world, with Bethany completing more than a dozen Ironman triathlons, including the Ironman World Championship in 2012. Together, they opened up a cycling studio called Energy Lab with partners Jim Boylan and Ted Morris and by assisting with the management of ATC with these same partners, along with Ron Teed and ultimately Tim Myers.
Tim Myers, a friend and colleague at ATC & The Energy Lab, reminds us that “Bethany’s legacy will live on through her twin boys, Alex and Ethan, and all who she touched in triathlon. It’s now our job to make sure her kids know what she meant to all of us. Bethany had a heart of a champion. Always modest, compassionate and caring. She worked hard to achieve her goals and even harder to help others achieve theirs. Our community has lost one of our greatest.”
Bethany’s contribution to the triathlon community has been far and wide—from logistics to practical, personal and coaching and encouragement online. Her idea of a fun weekend was to invite all of her friends to the lake for a holiday weekend: riding the mountains of North Georgia Saturday, put on her own Swim-Run on Sunday, and then get everyone to go trail running or climb the steepest mountain in Georgia on Monday.
Her friend, Michelle Crossman, says, “I am not sure what triathlon means without her, but I also believe in my heart that I can best honor her by returning to the sport after time off having children. Bethany had an incredible ability to motivate and inspire people—and help them exceed their expectations in the sport. She was also so consciously inclusive, ensuring anyone and everyone could find a reason to a triathlon that worked for them… she has been an incredible mentor to me, as well, as a coach.”
When I learned of Bethany’s passing, I instantly remembered how this encouraging spirit impacted me as well. I had run into Bethany and John many times over the years, but this one time really made an impression. I was training for Marine Corps Marathon with the Kyle Pease Foundation as a wheelchair pusher. I knew that would be a feat for me, and I was scared. On that day, Bethany provided simple and matter-of-fact encouragement in ways that meant more than I am sure she even knew—I had thought to myself, how in the world will I ever be able to do this race? She stood there, staring and me and simply saying, “Of course you can!” as if it was already done.
(And she was right.)
Her co-worker and friend Kathryn reported that, “When Bethany showed up at a race, it was like a small explosion happened. She’d open her bag and stuff would be everywhere. If you didn’t know her, you’d think she was a total newbie. Then she’d kick your butt, and finish top of the podium.”
John and Bethany decided they would try to start a family, but struggled to conceive. She wrote openly about the process and struggles on her blog—her authenticity and vulnerability so beautiful and reaching many with the same struggles. After multiple rounds of fertility treatments, Ethan and Alex (now almost one year old) were born. Kathryn Taylor, a friend of Bethany’s told me, “She just loved being with John and her boys. Motherhood was her favorite thing.”
She served on the USA Triathlon regional council, coached the TimeWarner (now Warner Media) FitNation team, the Scott Rigsby Foundation team, and worked with Widow Strong, an organization that empowers widows by getting them involved in endurance events (widowstrong.com).
Outside of triathlon, Bethany could be found working on new writing projects or composing music.
This quiet, but strong encouragement, is precisely how Bethany led her triathlon tribe as well. Always “yes you can” and of course you can do this—and here’s how and what can I do to help? A generous and kind leader, friend and community member. I also learned that she rarely ate with the correct utensil. Typically, she ate her yogurt with a knife. It was the way she got every bite out of the container.
Thank you, Bethany. For showing us what it meant to take those full bites of life, to have the Courage to Tri, and to love with all of your heart—even without a water bottle and only a Chick-fil-a Styrofoam cup to keep you hydrated. We are forever grateful for your life. We will miss you.
Donations can be made in Bethany’s memory to LifeLine Animal Project, her favorite charity, an organization that takes a holistic approach to improving the standard of care for animals in the Atlanta community. Bethany’s book, Courage to Tri, is available here. The next time you are running or putting in the miles, let us know with #MilesforBethany on your social media.