As a teenager, Donnelly Howard never thought she would grow up to become one of the best triathletes in the world.
“I was a ballerina through college and was a bookworm, so I never really thought of myself as a competitive athlete.”
The Mobile doctor’s love of running, though, is what encouraged her to start competing in races a few years ago, pushing her to become of the country’s best triathletes. She earned a spot on Team USA at the Grand Final World Triathlon Championship held a few weeks ago in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“It was amazing,” Howard said. “The thing I loved the most was the camaraderie among the U.S. athletes. For an amateur athlete, they treat it like the Olympics: you do team-related events the whole weekend, and it starts with the parade of nations with your team. The races are incredibly competitive but so much fun. It’s such an honor to be a part of it.”
Howard finished 35th at the world championship in her age group, a result she says “leaves room for improvement” but was cushioned by having her husband with her.
“When the race was over, seeing my husband… I just broke into tears,” Howard said. “You put so much time into training that when you cross the finish line; it is just an amazing feeling.”
Howard’s biggest challenge is finding time to train. The mother of four says she refuses to sacrifice family or work, which means lots of 4 a.m. starts and 2-a-day workouts.
“My husband has dedicated himself to letting sport be something we do together,” Howard said. “We go out for three-hour bike rides on the weekends. He hates to get up early, but he will be willing to get up early and do some of this stuff with me.”
Howard says her family is a big source of encouragement.
“When I got to Switzerland, mom had everyone in the family write me letters and put them in a bag so the night before the race I got to open up these sweet, encouraging letters. It’s so sweet to have so much support. It makes me happy.”
You can do it, too
Howard says she keeps running because she wants her kids — and everyone else, for that matter, to know how much fun she feels working out.
“I want them to understand that you can be active and healthy and not use time as an excuse to really make an active lifestyle a part of your life,” Howard said. “It’s great to be an adult and have something to put my energy into and feel accomplished at the end of the day.”
Howard will be sharing that message more often this year. She is one of 24 athletes selected to be an ambassador for the USA Triathlon Organization Foundation, a non-profit group that raises awareness and funding to help athletes turn their dreams into a reality. Howard says she is grateful to have a way to give back to the community while supporting a sport she loves.
“I want them to understand that you can be active and healthy and not use time as an excuse to really make an active lifestyle a part of your life,” Howard said. “You can find ways to make working out fun.”
As for racing, Howard has qualified to once again join Team USA at the World Triathlon Championship, which will be held next year in Edmonton, Canada. She says she also wants to complete all six of the World Marathon Majors.
“I’ve done Boston and New York. I’ve got Chicago next month, and then I hope to be competing in London as part of the World Championship Series,” Howard said. “That would leave Berlin and Tokyo. I would like to do those sometime in my life.”