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A social affair: local triathlon sees growing senior participation

Jane Miller and her husband Mark Vallely are bucking fitness trends for people in their age group. The couple participates in multiple triathlons and a variety of other physical activities.
For the past decade, Jane Miller and her husband Mark Vallely have directed and coordinated the Cayuga Lake Triathlon (CLT.) For Miller (56) and Vallely (55) triathlon is not only a form of exercise but also a source of great pride. “The satisfaction I get from participating in triathlon, and remaining active in general, expands into all other parts of my life,” Miller said.

After ten years working behind-the-scenes, the couple will participate in the CLT for the first time Aug. 14. Since its inception in 2003, the CLT has seen a growth in overall participation as well as participation from senior citizens over the age of 60. In 2004, 4 seniors participated in the CLT but that number grew ten-times in 2013 when 40 people over the age of 60 completed the race. Under Miller’s direction, overall participation increased 300% from just under 200 in 2004, to approximately 800 in 2013.

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Miller said that her interest in fitness spans well-beyond triathlons, and that even as she grows older, health and fitness have remained central to her life.

“I think we all know people, who, because of lack of exercise and obesity, have diseases that really impact their lives,” Miller said. “I feel so happy that, for my whole life, I’ve been healthy and able to maintain my weight, and at 56 I don’t need any sort of medication. It’s because I’ve chosen to be active.”

Alex Kleinerman, who is co-directing the CLT with Shawn Toffolo this summer, said the triathlon has a social component that can appeal to senior citizens.

“There’s such a community aspect to triathlon, and it’s so approachable,” Kleinerman said. “I think seniors realize they can do it; that it’s not a scary thing. It’s actually a fun and social way to stay active and stay healthy. What really blows my mind is that I’ll be out there, doing the triathlon, and I’ll see people in their 60’s and 70’s passing me. I think it’s so inspiring,” she said.

Vallely has been doing triathlons since approximately 1987.

“Some years I’d do as many as four of five triathlons a year, all culminating in the Ironman, which is the longest race in the triathlon family,” said Vallely.

In 2010 the couple participated in the Ironman triathlon in Syracuse, NY, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.

Despite growing participation in triathlon, many seniors don’t have the financial resources or physical ability to complete the necessary training beforehand, Theresa Lyczko, director of health promotion at the Tompkins County Health Department, said.

“There has definitely been senior participation in various triathlons, but I’d always encourage someone to consult with their physician before participating,” Lyczko said. “Triathlons take an immense amount of training beforehand, and it’s not just something you can decide to do out of the blue.”

For seniors unable to participate in triathlon specifically, Lyczko suggests walking, swimming and dance as other forms of exercise and said that regular physical activity has multiple benefits for seniors.

“Exercise helps people, particularly senior citizens, to maintain their muscular strength, which helps them have better balance in the long-run. Regular exercise can also help seniors avoid falls,” she said.

Keeping active has become such a crucial part of Vallely’s life that he now views regular physical activity as a necessity, he said.

“I think fitness is as important for your emotional and psychological stability as it is for your physical fitness,” he said. “If I’m not active over the course of a few days I start to get a little bit squirrely, so I think remaining fit is good for my all-around health.”

But their active lifestyle has other effects too. It brings the couple closer, and enriches their social life.

“Being active has brought me so much joy, it’s how I met Mark. Almost all of my closest friends are people I exercise with,” Miller said. “I get the physical benefits of the exercise, but I also get a social aspect, which makes my life full.”

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