Iron and Inspiration for Hereford Middle School


For most people, completing a marathon is something to brag about over the dinner table, on Facebook, or through the iconic “26.2” stickers proudly displayed on car bumpers. For most people, completing a marathon is the ultimate test of strength and endurance.

But Pat MacNabb is not most people. And for her, doing a marathon was an appetizer.

After finishing more than 25 marathons, the Hereford Middle School Physical Education teacher decided that while she enjoyed the demanding run, she needed a bigger challenge. So in 2007, MacNabb decided the 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon would be a little more up her alley.

And her next course was a test: an Ironman event consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile run – all done without a break. Ironman triathlons are among the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

Which did not seem to deter MacNabb in the least. To date, she has completed five Ironman competitions, and at her fifth, she took first place in her age group. The fun didn’t stop there, however; by winning her age group at Ironman Lake Placid this year, she qualified to go to the 2014 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

“I get choked up when I think about it,” MacNabb said as she prepared recently for her main course. “I just have to finish.”

That determination is classic MacNabb, a trait her students at Hereford Middle know well. Even though she’s in her 60s, MacNabb does everything with her students in physical education class and is even head of the school’s running club; she pushes them to be active and wants to be a healthy role model. By relentlessly training on her bike and in the water, she proves to her students daily that age should never get in the way of fitness, energy, and determination.

“You’re never too old to set a goal, and have a dream and achieve that,” MacNabb said. “You just have to be committed and passionate about what you do.”

As she readied herself for Kona, MacNabb knew that Hawaii brought on a whole new set of challenges. The heat is incomparable and the winds in Kona reach upwards of 25 miles per hour.

MacNabb also knew she had plenty of support. In addition to her students and colleagues at Hereford Middle, her daughter is her coach, and she says the support her daughter gives her each day is what carries her.

“There are times when I don’t feel like doing a workout, but I do it because I don’t want to have to say to my daughter, ‘I didn’t feel up to doing this,’” MacNabb said. “There are a lot of people who would give their heart and soul to be in the position I am in, and it’s an honor.”

She also gives major kudos to her husband, George, who is another pillar of support for her.

“He’s my bike mechanic, he is my partner. My husband is my number one fan and my number one support,” she said. “You don’t achieve something like this by yourself.”

So in mid-October, MacNabb set off for the Pacific, well-trained, rested and confident, buoyed by the hometown support of her students, community, and family. She swam, and biked, and ran, and got to the finish line exhausted but exhilarated, spent but satisfied.

“My experience . . . was everything I had hoped it would be,” she said upon returning home. “It was challenging, yet exhilarating, and was a true test of my mental toughness and determination. I . . .was able to finish this grueling race and still feel good. I am fortunate to have been able to complete this goal of mine and to be a positive role model for my students and colleagues.”

By Natalie Allen and Charles Herndon, Department of Communications and Community Outreach


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