Dorothy Sinson was walking through her Elmhurst health club when she noticed out of the corner of her eye an advertisement for an indoor triathlon.
She hesitated; as a girl Sinson had been discouraged from participating in sports and showing her competitive nature. But this time was different.
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"I can do that," she stated confidently.
When the results were posted for the event, the then-78-year-old Sinson noticed she had beaten a woman 40 years her junior. From then on she was hooked on triathlons.
"I grew up in the '30s and '40s, and I listened to the culture back then that said women don't work out and stay fit," the Elmhurst residents said. "You were supposed to find a man and support him, and all my competitive energy was repressed so I could focus on my sons."
The casual approach Stinson took to the indoor event was repeated with her participation in the Chicago Triathlon later that year.
"Going in, all I wanted to do was finish!" she said, laughing.
But as she was driving back home with her husband, Sinson got a call from her daughter-in-law in Milwaukee who told her she'd finished second in her age division. Sinson was encouraged to compete further.
"I had never truly excelled at anything my entire life," she said. "I was always putting some priority above my health, but my competitive side really found an outlet with these triathlons."
Sinson is no longer driving her three sons to hockey practice and watching from the bleachers. Instead it's her grandchildren who are coming out to cheer her on. Comfortably retired from her real estate career, Sinson has participated in at least two triathlons a year since 2007, swimming, biking and running her way across the country and proving age is no detriment to athletic success. Her second-place finish in Chicago proved to be an outlier, and she has won the 60-and-older category in every triathlon she has participated in since.
Sinson's late-blooming athletic career has garnered her national press, and the 83-year-old has participated in two Senior Olympics. This summer she will debut internationally when she represents the United States in the World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada. Stinson credits her success to the encouragement of her family and the balance of fun and restraint she brings to her races.
"When I'm on a bike, I have the energy and aggression to be driving a truck or SUV," she said. "But I need to balance that with an understanding that I have to treat my body well."
Sinson does not regularly use a personal trainer and plans her workouts around the weather conditions, finding it more rewarding to motivate herself. Outside help has actually been a detriment, like when a trainer was brought in to streamline Sinson's form and actually raised her practice times.
"I don't like a lot of outside help or setting up a computer with a schedule that says 'This is what you do, Dorothy.' I prefer to remain independent," she said.
Sinson's next event will be the Esprit de She Triathlon on Sunday, June 8, in Naperville, a women-only race centered around the city's Centennial Beach. But Sinson does not see the race as a warm up before her international debut later this summer.
"This event is very important to me. It is women only and shows how far we've come and how capable we are of competing," she said. "When I was young, women weren't even allowed to keep score in high school sports. This event is their turn to show they can be just as strong."