Barrington teacher to compete in Chicago triathalon

Dawn Emrath of Barrington was looking for a new challenge in her 60th year. So what did she do? She signed up for her first triathlon.

Emrath, who teaches physical education at Grove Elementary School in Barrington, will be one of approximately 9,200 athletes on Sunday descending on Chicago's lakefront for the Transamerica Chicago Marathon.

Nearly half the field - 47 percent - will be doing their first triathlon, and 23 percent overall will be doing the sprint distance, like Emrath, who has since turned 61. They open with a half-mile swim in Lake Michigan, followed by a 12½-mile bike ride on Lake Shore Drive, followed by a 5K run through Chicago's museum campus.

Right from the outset, she says, she had two simple goals: to complete the race and stay injury free during her training.

"I want to confirm to myself - and others - that age is just a number," Emrath says, "and that attitude dictates your successes."

As a gym teacher, she knows that it is never too late to start being active - and now she has set out to prove it.

Emrath researched ways to prepare for a triathlon and then drew up a 12-week training plan that she and her 19-year old daughter, Abby, have been following.

"It's her first triathlon, too," Emrath says. "She'll be in the youngest division - and I'll be in the oldest."

They have been running together through scenic Citizens Park in Barrington and riding along Long Grove Road to and from Deer Park Centre.

"I started the summer going from no running to now doing three miles without stopping," Emrath says.

Her swimming skills were about the same. Back in her teenage years, she had been a competent swimmer, even working as a lifeguard. But Emrath admits it had been years since she had been in the pool and she had to build up her endurance. Now, she says, she swims a half-mile or mile every time she gets in the pool.

It's the open water swim that she and her daughter have had to work to master. Both have taken part in clinics hosted by the Chicago Triathlon at the Ohio Street Beach. Each practice has drawn up to 500 swimmers, so it has given them a taste of the real event coming up on Sunday.

This is the fifth year for the Open Water Swim Clinics and race officials say they are targeted at new triathletes, who consider the swim to be the most intimidating event.

However, they point to experienced triathletes, who consider the swim much easier than the bike or run because it's faster, low impact and much easier with a wet suit.

It's all part of the adventure, Emrath says, and she is approaching it with an open mind and an eagerness to learn.

On Friday, Emrath met with her new students and their parents during a "Meet Your Teacher" day at Grove Elementary. She has a new theme this year that she is rolling out - and she seems to personify it: "Be active with your kids."

As for race day itself, Emrath says she can't wait.

"After all this training, I'm looking forward to the actual triathlon," Emrath says, "and I am feeling confident that I will meet my challenge."

  Dawn Emrath, 61, a physical education teacher at Grove Avenue School in Barrington, is training for the Chicago Triathlon, which takes place Sunday. Joe Lewnard/
Dawn Emrath, 61, a physical education teacher at Grove Avenue School in Barrington, gives a thumbs-up while training for the Chicago Triathlon. Courtesy of Dawn Emrath
Almost 10,000 athletes compete in Transamerica Chicago Marathon on the lakefront. Courtesy of Life Time Athletic Events
The triathlon opens with a half-mile swim in Lake Michigan. Courtesy of Life Time Athletic Events
The event's final leg is a 5K run through Chicago's museum campus. Courtesy of Life Time Athletic Events
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