Joni Briganti likes to inspire the over-50 crowd, especially those who feel like they’ve spent so much time taking care of others, they’ve missed the chance to do something for themselves.

The 60-year-old Spotsylvania County triathlete, who runs, bikes and swims grueling distances, has carried the U.S. flag over international finish lines since she crossed the half-century mark. She wants to remind people that it’s never too late.

“Find what you enjoy and believe in yourself! Follow through! Set goals! That’s my message,” states Briganti in an email.

Always energetic and bubbly, the fitness teacher writes the same way she talks, often ending sentences in an exclamation point. While she encourages older people to do something for themselves, what she puts her body through isn’t exactly pampering.

Her participation in the ITU Long Distance World Championship recently in Pontevedra, Spain, as a member of Team USA, is a prime example.

Athletes from 52 countries threw themselves into water that was 56 degrees while the temperature outside was a nippy 44 degrees. Thirty-seven swimmers were pulled out of the water for hypothermia, but Briganti, who’s known as the “Iron Pinkie” after her favorite color, persevered to the end.

Her hands were shaking so much when she stepped out of the water that it took her 10 minutes to buckle her bike helmet. But buckle it she did, so she could bike for 76 miles. She said she felt cold for the first 20 miles.

She finished the aquabike world championship event in 6 hours, 18 minutes and 34 seconds—the third American woman in the 60-64 age group to cross the finish line.

“We climbed 5,800 feet on the bike THREE TIMES!” she writes, adding all caps for even more emphasis. “Three loops of mountains! It was an incredible experience!”

What she doesn’t mention is that race officials cut the length of the swim in half, to less than a mile, out of concern for the participants’ safety in the frigid water.

But Briganti prepared for the “ice river,” as she called it, by arriving in Spain a week before the competition and spending at least 20 minutes in the water each day.

“On the first day, I couldn’t remember my husband’s name after swimming,” she said. “It took me a good 10 to 15 minutes to get over that.”

She also wore two swim camps and a good pair of ear plugs to keep out the icy water. Her doctor told her cold water across the middle ear can cause vertigo, and Briganti doesn’t talk about it, but she already suffers from an inner-ear disturbance.

The world championship isn’t the only thing new on Briganti’s horizon since she was featured in The Free Lance–Star last summer. She’s also been selected a USA Triathlon National Ambassador, and during speaking events, the mother of five and grandmother of one talks about how she added running and biking to her lifetime habit of swimming—and got hooked on the marathon events.

She’s done more than 105 half-marathons and completed her 100th Olympic triathlon in November—and is eagerly awaiting a “century plaque” from USA Triathlon. In addition, this fall, she’ll attempt to qualify to represent America at the World Championships in Almere, Netherlands, which will feature her favorite event, the full Ironman distance. That includes 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on the bike and 26.2 miles of running, one after another, after another.

“I’m super excited as always!” she said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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