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Shirley Hartnett’s story

« posted 02/09/2014

Pine Grove is the proud sponsor of Shirley Hartnett’s story.

This is my story for what it is worth. I have a son who has muscular dystrophy. If you know anything about the disease you know it means my son is dying every day of his life. It is a muscle wasting disease. Life expectancy is 18 years old, and he is 21 years old. My son has a great mind, probably better than mine, and I am a college professor of math and run physics workshops. It is so disheartening to see him gradually get weaker. He is wheelchair bound and needs help with all bathing, dressing…

An amazing woman, with an amazing story. If she doesn’t motivate you…

One day as I was helping him, I realized what would he do if he had a healthy body. He would run, bike, and swim. Hence a triathlon (he also said dance and I’m doing that too). So this 56 year old woman who never participated in sports in her life (not even in high school or college, because I was the nerd) embarked on this journey. She didn’t know how to swim (only how not to drown), nor bike or run and was 100 pounds overweight. She didn’t own any sneakers, have a bike, or have any type workout gear. But I felt if my son could live each day with the determination to overcome his handicap, when each day was a new challenge, then I could overcome my insecurities and do my first triathlon.

Along the journey, I discovered a great team, I lost a lot of weight, and I became more fit. I discovered many things about myself but more importantly no one laughed at me, especially when I thought you could run in the winter in jeans or because I didn’t know how to disconnect the front wheel from your bike so it would fit in the car, no one said you can’t do this when I was the slowest on the hill, or when I got scared when we swam in a huge group or when I wore a wetsuit instead of a trisuit for the open water swim. In fact this community helped every step of the way. Like every athlete, ‘me an athlete’ sounds funny, I have wanted to quit. Pains, bruises, and even a concussion, but I look at my son and he can’t quit. So I can’t either.  So when I cross the finish line, and I will, my son will be there living vicariously through me, but I realized, now that the race is a few weeks away, I am doing this for me. This training has given me a lot of benefits.  This journey won’t end with this triathlon, and that is probably the greatest accomplishment, to change one’s whole mindset this late in life.


When I announced I was doing this all my family and friends were totally shocked. This was something totally outside anything they could conceive of me ever doing. I am also a cancer survivor.  Caring for a terminally ill child can be very isolating. This training has been very empowering for me.

Shirley wrote this letter to the race director in 2012.