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Top Goals for Oldest Woman at Ironman St. George: ‘Have Fun and Finish the Darn Thing’

73-year-old triathlete Melodie Cronenberg will toe the line at the Ironman World Championships for what she calls her four disciplines: swim, bike, run, and joy.

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At the age of 52, Melodie Cronenberg started gaining weight. She was confused because she had always been active and healthy. She started walking more for weight management, and then running after she challenged to enter a corporate 5K at work.

“I thought that would be a good opportunity to see what I could do,” Cronenberg said. “I came in first in my age group. Do you know what that does to you? It gets you pretty fired up.”

Shortly thereafter, she signed up for another running race that was in in conjunction with a triathlon event in Henderson, Nevada. That was the day she was introduced to the sport she now lives and breathes.

“Before my race started I ran over to transition to watch them and it was like a lightning bolt hit me,” Cronenberg stated.”I thought ‘I have got to do this, this is for me!’”

At the time she didn’t own a bike and hadn’t swam for several years, but she was fortunate to get paired with a local coach that she met at the triathlon that morning. In 2002, at the age of 54, her triathlon journey began.

Cronenberg was strategic about her introduction to the challenging sport. With the guidance of her coach, she started small with a sprint distance event; once she felt she mastered this distance, she moved up to the Olympic distance.

“You have to respect the distances and respect the people who are racing and put a lot of hard work into them,” she said.

It wasn’t long though before she found herself on the start line of her first Ironman, at the age of 57, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. That day is an experience she will never forget. “It was just totally exhilarating,” she said. “I was so happy and I felt that I was doing the right thing for me.”

Now she has finished 27 Ironman races, including seven trips to the Big Island for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Up next: The Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah as the oldest female competitor in the race, where her goal is to “have fun and finish the darn thing.”

(Photo: Courtesy Melodie Cronenberg)

Triathlon is not just a sport that Cronenberg has competed in for the last two decades. It’s now at the core of her every day since she became a coach in 2017.

“A big turning point in my life was when the company I worked for downsized and eliminated my position,” Cronenberg admitted. “I went ‘Yay’ now I can coach and do what I want to full-time.”

Now, in her hometown of Henderson, she does it all. She teaches young children how to swim, coaches strength training sessions, leads spin classes, and works with triathletes through her coaching business, T3 Triathlon.

“I love watching people succeed,” she said. “I was a good accounting manager, but I didn’t love it. The joy of triathlon is what we share as coaches. It really is our happy place.”

At the core of Cronenberg’s coaching philosophy are two principles. “I always tell my athletes that the number one rule is safety and the other number one rule is that it has to be fun,” she said. “When either of those gets mixed up, you have to take a step back.”

As a competitive athlete herself, Cronenberg has been able to practice what she preaches, something she believes has contributed to her longevity in the sport as she ages. “I haven’t had too many injuries,” she noted. “I’ve trained really smart and gotten in tune with my body, and coaching others has reaffirmed that I have done it correctly. I have so much knowledge to pass on from my own positive experiences.”

(Photo: Courtesy Melodie Cronenberg)

While most of Cronenberg’s triathlon career has been seamless, a bad crash at Ironman Maryland in 2019 sidelined her. On what was a drizzly and wet day, she reached down to grab her water bottle and it slipped from her hands and hit her front wheel. She ended up in the hospital that day with a broken femur and displaced hip.

Even in the midst of describing the traumatic event, Cronenberg reflects from a place of deep gratitude.

“I must say that the care I received from Ironman management, emergency services, and medical staff was beyond wildest expectations,” she admitted. “I was alone and across the continent from home—and incapacitated!”

The emergency crew took her to a hospital that specialized in orthopedics and her surgeon, who was a swimmer and cyclist himself, had her out of surgery before her friend finished the bike leg of the Ironman. With special care, she was able to head back home five days later.

“I was on crutches and hurting, but relieved and so grateful,” she said. “It could have been much worse.”

At home, she began healing immediately though therapy with her close friend and physical therapist. It was a long and slow process to return, riddled with other challenges when COVID hit in the midst of her comeback.

“I have been fully back at it for over a year,” she said.  “I am now 73 and slower, undoubtedly, but still moving with a purpose and grateful for it. So many people helped me. I am so lucky.”

Moving forward, Cronenberg hopes to continue to compete, but recognizes the natural evolution required with her approach to training and racing.

“Goals have to be adjusted as you age,” Cronenberg said. “I have to train smarter than I ever did before.”

Cronenberg has no plans of slowing down though, as her joy for coaching, racing and the sport itself burns deeply. And for her, joy is the most important discipline of all.

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