Sports Zone

At 65, Anna Houpt a world-class triathlete

CSD business manager Anna Houpt shows off her Xterra U.S. Regional Champion shirt and a ring full of competition numbers from triathlons and other races she’s competed in over the past 12 years. Gini Davis/The Chronicle

CRESWELL – She didn’t quite finish the race, but Anna Houpt is winning at life.
The 65-year-old Creswell resident competed in the world’s premier off-road triathlon – the 24th annual Xterra World Championship Triathlon, held Oct. 27, 2019, in Kapalua, Maui, Hawai’i.
The triathlon combined three grueling, timed challenges: a 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) ocean swim, a 32-kilometer (20-mile) mountain bike race that climbed 3,500 feet up and down the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains, and a 10.5-kilometer (6.5-mile) trail run over forest trails and beach sand.
”I did not end up finishing because I was about 15 minutes over time in the bike,” said Houpt, Creswell School District’s business manager since 2011.
But simply qualifying for the elite triathlon was quite an achievement. Houpt qualified as the Xterra U.S. regional champion in the 65-69 age group and completed two other off-road triathlons.
”In my age group there was not a lot of competition,” Houpt said, smiling. ”Only four women my age from around the world qualified – and one was injured before the race, so only three competed.”
Houpt competing in the Xterra World Championship Triathlon is all the more impressive since she broke her fibula in March 2019, requiring surgery to install screws, and was not cleared to run again until July 2019.
But the challenge of coming back from that injury just added more fuel to her inner fire.
”I’d set the triathlon as a goal about a year in advance, and at my age it would’ve been so easy just to sit down and not have gotten back up, so it was good that I had my goal,” said Houpt, who was back training on an indoor bike 2.5 weeks post-surgery and returned to swimming and aqua jogging as soon as her incision healed.
”I’m still not running well – but luckily, the races I had to do for regional qualifying were both in the Northwest in August. At least I was off crutches by then and moving under my own power,” she said. ”I needed to get first place in my age group to qualify – and apparently, not too many women my age are out there mountain biking.”
The struggles surmounted on her way to Worlds made ”just qualifying and being there at the starting line a victory,” she said.
Now, several months post-race, Houpt’s life has returned to normal and she’s been fully cleared to ”do anything I want to do – and I have been,” she said.
Of course, ”normal” for Houpt would seem incredible, if not impossible, for many people half her age. Six days a week, after working full-time, she swims, bikes or runs (two of each over the six days), along with one or two strength-training sessions – ”and, if I’m being good, stretching and yoga,” she said. ”It’s pretty much my life outside of work – but I literally do not watch TV; I don’t even know how to turn it on.”
Houpt ran her first race in July 2007, when she was 53 and, before training, ”pretty overweight,” she said. The watershed moment came when she and her husband, Michael Hearn, traveled to visit some of her relatives.
”They were in their 70s, and literally getting up out of their chair and walking out to the mailbox was almost difficult; all they could do was sit in a chair and watch TV,” Houpt said. ”I said to myself, ‘That’s not for me’ – and it wasn’t going to get any easier as I got older, so I just got started.”
It wasn’t a ”cold” start, though. Houpt was no stranger to an active lifestyle; her husband was doing triathlons when they began dating, and the couple did whitewater sports and rock climbing from about 1978 to the early/mid 2000s.
In 2009, ”we bicycled across the U.S. on a tandem bike,” Houpt said. ”It took us about three months, but we were both able to take a leave of absence from work” (Hearn was a surgical technologist at Sacred Heart before retiring and is a Level 4 archery instructor and certified archery judge.) The couple followed an established route utilized for ”Bikecentennial,” held the summer of 1976 in conjunction with the National Bicentennial.
”We’ve done a lot of crazy stuff,” Houpt said.
Still, time had passed, and some reconditioning was in order. When she learned about triathlon ”sprints,” which required ”only” swimming 750 yards, biking 12 miles and running for three miles, Houpt thought, ”I bet I could do that.”
And she did.
Since then, she’s competed in two Ironman Triathlons – arduous one-day events consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.22-mile marathon – and about nine half-Ironmans.
”Once you can do (the triathlon ‘sprints’), then the next distance starts to seem reasonable, and then the next …” she said, explaining how getting back into shape snowballed into running world-class triathlons. ”But you know you’re nuts when Ironman starts to seem reasonable; when I was first told the distances for a half-Ironman I thought, ‘That’s not ”half” of anything!’”
How many races Houpt runs annually ”depends on my goal for myself that year – maybe about eight,” she said, adding that she prefers off-road to road races.
”Off-road races are more laid-back; road race people get pretty serious and intense – there’s just a different vibe,” Houpt said. ”Off-road is much more technical; there’s a lot more variety and it’s a lot more fun.”
At Worlds, competitors – about 650, representing 28 countries and 42 U.S. states – definitely had some ”technical” concerns about the potential for six-foot waves and rip currents.
”The thing we were most worried about was swimming in the surf; (organizers) scared us to death talking about the currents, waves, and how to get through them,” Houpt said. ”It was to your advantage to find the current in the right place where it would actually take you to the first buoy and push you toward the second buoy. If you got pushed too far left, you had to swim into the current to get back to the buoy.”
When the race began, the pros – competing for $105,000 in prize money – went first, then the amateur men; Houpt and the other amateur women were watching, ”and we could see the first group get pushed left, so we started shifting down the beach a little and the organizers were trying to push us back,” she said. ”I don’t read currents well enough, and I did get pushed left a little at the first buoy.”
After the two-lap swim, the first three miles of biking ”were all climbing, over mostly paved or dirt roads, then a singletrack trail,” Houpt said. ”It was fun going downhill – but you had to do two laps, so you had to do the climb twice.”
Because she was over time on the bike leg, Houpt was unable to do the run: ”basically a steep trail, then a run on sand,” she said.
Now home and routinely putting in 1.5-hour weekday trainings and three-to-four-hour bike rides or two-hour runs on weekends, it’s hard to imagine what feats are next for this dynamic ”senior” citizen who lives like anything but.
As far as Houpt is concerned, the sky’s the limit.
”In another year I retire – and then I won’t have this pesky job to get in the way of my training,” she quipped.



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