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At 54, triathlete goes it alone to her outer limits

December 25, 1986|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

Once she caught on to the fact that her physical strength surpassed her imagination, Roberta (Bobbi) Pollock had to keep pushing to see just how far she could go.

She got to what many athletes consider a pinnacle of physical achievement--the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon--even though doctors had told her she would never run again.

At 54, Pollock not only finished the difficult competition, but made a good showing in her age group, and she intends to return some day and do even better.

The triathlon, held in October on Hawaii's Kona coast, includes a 2.5-mile ocean swim, 112 miles of bicycling and a marathon run of 26.2 miles. All three events must be completed within 17 hours. Pollock finished in 15.04, coming in fourth among the nine people in her age group and 870th among the 1,109 entrants of all ages.

Pollock considers her achievement especially remarkable because she first had to overcome a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit and the crippling effects of spinal surgery.

Even more remarkable to some of her friends and family is that she began "from ground zero" at the age of 50 and did her training alone, without the backing and support of athletic clubs and coaches that many athletes consider essential for such demanding work.

"I didn't plan any of this--it all just happened," insists Pollock, who credits her Christian faith for helping her after an automobile accident seven years ago.

She had suffered a ruptured disc and pinched sciatic nerve in the car crash, and after surgery she was told that she would never again be able to run or arch her back.

"The Lord healed me," she said, and over the next couple of years she became a fervent convert to Christianity.

She figured that her injuries meant a virtual end to athletic activity, and no more flip turns in the recreational swimming she had always enjoyed.

The first miracle, Pollock believes, was being able to quit smoking after consuming three packs a day for 20 years. She could do it only through prayer and fasting, she said.

Pollock kept swimming, as she had all her life. In 1983 she started running in her Claremont neighborhood.

That is when she first heard of triathlons, "and something inside me said I gotta do this."

"I wondered: How could anyone move her body that many hours?"

To get an answer, she entered some small triathlon events and earlier this year entered the Los Angeles Marathon. She started riding a bicycle 120 miles every weekend.

"I never had time to join (athletic) clubs, so I just had to train myself," she said. "I'm sure a running coach would make my times faster. But I just needed to go alone and set my own goals."

She learned "you do the Ironman like you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. You take one stroke at a time and you concentrate on what you're doing. It certainly does take concentration."

Pollock works a regular 40-hour week as manager of A. Klein Chocolatier in Claremont, and she does most of the shopping and cooking for her husband, Bruce, and son, Kevin, 19.

She is up every day at 5 a.m. and running by 6. She runs two hours before and after work, swims twice a week at a local club and bicycles on weekends.

Pollock says she eats a normal diet without red meat or alcohol and sleeps about eight hours each night.

Recalling her "previous life" when she made and sold macrame at art sales, smoked, drank socially, had no religious commitment and thought life was pretty good, Pollock laughed.

"I always loved life, but that certainly wasn't as exciting as what I'm doing now."

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