The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 28, 2013

Age no barrier to sisters in triathlon

Mike Kovak

JOHNSTOWN — It’s rarely wise or polite to ask a woman for her age. For male participants at the Tri It Now, a mini-triathalon held on June 9 at the Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center in Manassas, Va., such questions didn’t need asking.

Ages were written on the competitors’ calves, so there was no hiding for Johnstown resident Ilene Rozich, who is nearing her 70th birthday, and her 68-year-old sister, Anne Bane, a graduate of Greater Johnstown High School who lives in Virginia.

Not that Rozich and Bane were concealing anything.

Instead, the sister act reveled in the positive attention their participation in the endurance event, which included a 250-yard swim, a 11⁄2-mile walk/run and a four-mile bike ride, received.

“After we finished, younger people were saying, ‘I hope I can do this when I’m your age,’ ” Rozich said. “At one point during my walk, a younger male went by me and said, ‘Way to go, Grandma.’ and gave me a thumbs up. I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m a great grandma.’ Then, he gave me two thumbs up.”

Rozich began swimming at the age of 4 and eventually became a member of United States Masters Swimming. She spent years working and training at the YMCA in Johnstown, but curtailed her schedule to follow the endeavors of family members, like grandson Josh Duplin, who started as a freshman at heavyweight for the Pitt-Johnstown wrestling team during the 2012-13 season.

But swimming is just one-third of a triathalon and neither Rozich nor Bane had participated in one previously.

“My daughters did it last year and they both said, ‘Mom, you could do this,’ ” Bane said. “It was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again.”

Bane’s foray into endurance activity began when she decided to take advantage of a gym membership offered to her after retiring as a manager from Wells Fargo three years ago. The gym was 25 miles from her home, but Bane started going four days per week and participating in a wide array of activities from water classes to pilates to yoga to body pump.

Throw in treadmill work and Bane couldn’t wait to make her mini-triathalon debut.

“I was ready for it. I trained for the swimming three or four times a week. I was ready,” said Bane, who once went zip lining in Costa Rica.

Rozich, who plans to zip line in Las Vegas this fall, had entered walking contests and a few 5k races, but she did need a little convincing to make the trip to Virginia.

“Between swimming and walking, I train all the time,” Rozich said. “But this wasn’t something I thought I’d be into doing. My sister talked me into it. I don’t care to compete. I just do it for fun, to enjoy it, to feel good about it.”

Both sisters competed as part of relay teams and, for the record, Team Rozich (54:32) bested Team Bane (57:40) by three minutes, eight seconds.

Bane surprised herself by swimming faster than Rozich, whose bike relay secured the win.

But, it wasn’t about times for the sisters.

“It was great. Everyone was so encouraging,” Bane said. “I knew I could finish and I was happy with my swimming. I thought she would beat me and that I would catch up to her on the walk.”

Maybe next year. Both plan to return.

“When I finished the race, I felt so empowered,” Rozich said. “No matter the age, you can get up and feel good about yourself. … At one time during the walk, which was a fast walk, I felt like I was going to throw up. I didn’t. I finished. It was a good feeling. I did this.”