RICHMOND, Va. -- An initial glance might not give you the impression that Sue DeJesus is a world class athlete.
But like they so often are, looks in this case are completely deceiving.
DeJesus competed in this year’s Half-Ironman World Championships in Chattanooga. She swam 1.2 miles…biked 56 miles and ran a half marathon in the hopes of continuing a journey she didn’t begin until her 50th birthday.
“I decided I wanted to defy the aging process because I wanted to be healthy, and this keeps me exercising" DeJesus said.
DeJesus ranked first in the world in her age group last year…making her one of just 29 athletes from around the world to qualify for this year’s championships. Her training routinely gets her out of bed before the sun rises, and takes nearly as many hours each week as a fulltime job.
“I do it because I like it, I’m good at it and I like winning.”
This confidence was not evident 16 years ago when she completed her first event, which was at the shortest Ironman distances for each discipline.
“I thought I was going to die" DeJesus remembered. "I was so out of breath, I thought I would never survive”
When she says things like that, it’s not hyperbole.
DeJesus has spent 30 years as a respiratory therapist, and these days sees a regular rotation of patients at Chippenham Johnston-Willis hospitals. Her care extends beyond the usual exercises to include nutrition help. Her patients also keep very close track of her exploits and progress as an athlete to take their minds away from their rehabilitation.
“They tell me I’m encouraging to them, that I’m inspirational to them”
And if she is, the inspiration and encouragement flow both ways. During the long hours of training and competing, often in solitude, DeJesus will think about her patients and their challenges. It helps to keep any of her own self-doubts in proper perspective.
“They display such courage here despite having breathing problems" DeJesus said. "They come consistently and try their hardest. They inspire me”
DeJesus has at least one more challenge to overcome. She has yet to compete in a full Ironman triathalon, but has noticed her results improve every time she extends herself. For someone with her type of determination, that leads to only one place.
“I want to qualify for Kona and go to Hawaii, do the biggest race and see that that’s like" DeJesus said. "After that, I don’t know. I think I’ll always do a little bit of something. You just feel good when you’re fit and you can do something with your fitness.”
DeJesus finished third in Chattanooga over what was described to her as one of the toughest 70.3 mile courses ever conceived. She will compete again in October in North Carolina and will try her first full Ironman distance next April in Houston.
Beyond the Roster with Lane Casadonte airs Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 11.