2005 Triathlete of the Year - Barbara McNeal

By Robert McNeal

Triathlete of the Year. It is quite an impressive and strong group of past recipients – Kathy McDaris, Melissa Auker, Bob Keller, Lynn Powell, Jeff Bowman and George Palmer. They’re all awesome. Our next recipient fits right in.

She began her fitness campaign in 1980 at the age of 25. Began riding bikes, fell immediately in love, started pedaling and never looked back. Began riding across the great State of Iowa that same year on a ride called RAGBRAI (Des Moines Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). This is a 500 mile ride across Iowa in a week. This ride was first established to prove Iowa wasn’t flat. This is also done in the month of July, so needless to say, extreme heat with a lot of hills. She and her husband ride this every year and have completed 25 rides. But was this enough? Noooooooooooooo. For 18 of these 25 rides, they rode IARBGAR (RAGBRAI spelled backwards). They ride across the state to the beginning and then turn around and come back with over 10,000 riders. On average, 1000 miles in two weeks. The rumor has it, when her husband retires in maybe 3 to 5 years, they’ll be riding their bikes from Florida to Iowa to ride across again.

She began running in 1985. Has completed numerous races, six marathons, one 50K. We have our annual Gasparilla run coming up in February. This will be her 18th year, my 19th year and my other sister’s 20th year. Let the competition begin.

A good friend of hers, Thierry Kobes, convinced her to start doing Triathlons. She completed her first Triathlon in 1987, at Rizzi’s Wildman Triathlon in St. Petersburg. And after 19 seasons of racing, this past November in Panama City Florida, this recipient completed her 100 Triathlon at the Florida Iron Man. This is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile race. This just after turning the age of 50 in September. Sorry little sister….

During these 19 years and 100 races, she has completed 70 sprint distant to Olympic distant races, 23 Half Iron Man’s and 7 Ironmans. She completed two Claremont Ironmans in 1992 and 1995, getting 8th and 7th women overall. She has been to the Hawaiian Ironman twice in 1993 and 1996. Also in 1993 she completed Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. This is deemed the hardest Ironman course around because of the mountains. She took 2nd in her age group. She was hot that year. In June 2000, she competed with the USA team at the Worlds Long Distance Championship in Nice, France. She makes her brother, very proud.

But to heck with competition. Part of the definition of Triathlete of the Year is Service and Inspiration to others in the sport. Wow, that’s an understatement. This girl loves and lives this sport and gives everything she has so other people can understand and enjoy it as much as she does. Her inspiration and motivation are phenomenal. Her positive mental attitude, unmatched. I think Sherri and Paul Peavey and Robin Safley experienced a little of that this past November at their first Ironman distance race. She’s an awesome training partner.

She and her racing partner for many years, Melissa Auker went all over the country, in the “Tri-Pad”. Motivating each other, drinking wine, listening to books on tape, drinking wine, having to have their blood tested because of bad swimming water, drinking more wine. Oh, the results of the blood test—-no doubt, wine.

She is the ever-ready rabbit; she keeps going and going and going. One of her and my daughter, Hillary’s, favorite songs is “I believe I can fly.” I don’t believe you can fly little sister, I know you can fly. They were both singing this as they crossed the line, hand-in-hand at my sister’s 100 triathlon this past November. It was so awesome!

Please join me in welcoming an awesome athlete, a great friend, the best sister a brother could have, did I mention she was my older sister, and the 2005 Triathlete of Year—-Barbara McNeal.