Twenty years after Patty Wright joined the CSA, the International Triathlon Union, the 78-year-old Edgerton, N.H., resident remains a force to be reckoned with. Her armada of eight runners runs, swims and bikes just about nonstop in all conditions. While she’s sporting mild bruises on her left (outback) leg as a result of the race in Bora Bora this past April, she’s still in good shape for the Oct. 19 race up Mount Washington (9,288 feet). Her age has been a point of fascination for triathletes: “Well, my dad said it’s gotta be at least a 62-year-old to do the 10-mile swim and bike trail, and I’m 78,” she says. “There’s really not an age limit, but if you’re sure what you’re doing and feel good about it, there’s no age limit.”
Wright competed in 31 triathlons between 1989 and 2011, raising more than $85,000 for the CSA. She didn’t begin swimming seriously until 2007. Before then, she did a lot of running — 100 miles a week. “[Wright’s] harder than average,” says Tina Jorgensen, one of her competitors in the upcoming Mount Washington race. “She has some amount of perseverance.”
Wright’s passion and drive for endurance-sports running and swimming are grounded in adversity. It all started in early life. “I wanted to be a teacher,” she says. “My parents wanted me to be an astronaut.” Her parents were shot and killed in a drive-by while driving home on Easter Sunday in 1939.
However, she was asked to become one of the caretakers for a church nursing home, where she worked for another 20 years. She completed her 10,000-meters on the 1960 Summer Olympics track team in Munich. “You can’t forget,” she says. “The rest of my life, I’ve only run on the world’s greatest and deadliest hills.”
She developed a taste for competitive swimming with triathlons at age 48. “A triathlon requires so much skill and athleticism and stamina,” she says. She’s also competitively ridden horses and rowed and can “barely walk” — not bad for a 78-year-old.
Though she holds down an administrative assistant job at the University of New Hampshire and doesn’t race that often, Wright does it “because I enjoy it,” she says. “You learn a lot more at age 78 than you ever did when you were 25.”
There are many advantages to her age. “I don’t need as much mass,” she says. “My last weigh-in was 130 pounds. That wasn’t my goal, but I like it.” She also won’t overthink the races, and “what I like to say is ‘It is what it is,’” she says. “I’m really just here to enjoy being old.”