It Takes a Village

AgeGrouper Angie Jackson went from not being able to swim, to training to become an Ironman, with the backing of her support system

At the age of 48, Angie Jackson showed up to her first triathlon with a borrowed Huffy bike from Walmart, her everyday walking sneakers, a never-worn tri-suit ordered online and her “sole sisters” – best friends and women from Black Girls Run (the network community organization that motivates Black women to live a healthy lifestyle).

Equipment aside, there was one other thing Angie didn’t have – the ability to swim.

“I would use a towel with me in the shower. I would hurry up and dry my face off in the middle. That’s how scared I was of water,” Angie said.

But Angie was determined to participate in a triathlon, and with the support of her friends and family, she and a group of novice friends from BGR took the plunge.

It turns out, the women soon found themselves in deep water. Literally. Angie and her friends huddled together at the start, staring into the pool, which was NOT walkable as they had been told, and instead graduated in depth starting at 6-feet deep.

“I jumped in and thought, ‘Oh Lord, I’m going to die!’” Angie said.

Halfway through the swim she grabbed onto the ropes and pulled herself across the pool. Instead of the disqualification she knew she earned, the crowd and her sisters cheered her on. 

All of the women did what they had to to get across.

An hour later, Angie was the second to last person to finish the 250-yard swim. But she had done it! And she did the rest in her amateur hand-me-down gear. The finish was exhilarating. She got her medal, and beaming, repeated with excitement, “I’m a triathlete!” Immediately, she knew she’d do it again. Angie was hooked.

Angie’s Supporters

We talk about the benefits of accountability partners and a solid support system for triathletes all the time here at AG. But Angie has much more than a group of helpers. She has a sisterhood, a family – both literal and figurative – who have been by her side from her first step walking with her grandson in his stroller, to pulling herself by the lane ropes in her first triathlon, to training for Eagleman 70.3, and now training for a full Ironman today.

There’s her “sole sisters”, who have been with her from the beginning. 

“There are times you feel like it’s not enough and they’re right there,” said Angie. “We are athletes and professionals and everyone is grinding to be better and allowing you to be a better you at the same time.”

Her parents, who’ve supported her every endeavor and told her from when she was a little girl that she could do anything. She plans her races around their ability to attend and cheer her on.

Her children, two daughters and son, who join her in the last feet of a race to cross the finish line.

Her grandson, who inspired her to get active before he was even born, and now at four rides his stationary bike next to hers during training sessions in the living room. And her granddaughter – just old enough to ride along for runs in the jogging stroller.

An Athlete is Made

Angie’s tri journey began at age 47 when, aside from being an avid lifelong hula hooper (“That’s how I got my abs!”), she was a never-been athlete. Upon learning she was about to be a grandma, she wanted to get heart healthy. So she started regular walks with the Fayetteville, N.C., chapter of Black Girls Run.

“When I started out with Black Girls Run, there was a sisterhood, a camaraderie,” said Angie. “There’s something about being active on the pavement and having great stories we’re telling. There’s always someone that’s able to run or walk your pace. There’s always someone to be with you.”

When her grandson was born (nicknamed Chomp Chomp for his love for eating), she brought him along in the stroller. He said his first word, “go”, from that stroller and it inspired her to pick up speed. “It got to the point that I wanted to walk when he wasn’t with me. I didn’t even realize that I had been doing resistance training with the jogging stroller.”

She could go even faster now. Well, thought Angie, might as well try running.

Run she did – the Philadelphia Half-Marathon.

The Ramblin’ Rose Race

Then, Angie’s squad had even bigger plans for her. The Huntersville, N.C., Ramblin’ Rose triathlon was coming up the following year. A sole sister from BGR asked if she wanted to join her in the race – a 250-yard pool swim, eight-mile bike, two-mile run. 

Angie and three others from BGR signed up for the Ramblin’ Rose triathlon, and to prepare, joined swim lessons at her local YMCA. Even after four months of lessons, Angie could only make it halfway down the pool before becoming exhausted. Still, she didn’t worry too much. They’d been told that the pool used in the race was shallow the whole way – she could walk across if she needed to.

As we know, the pool was not walkable. Angie and her fellow participants had to adjust. 

“One of my girls figured out how to do the backstroke even though she didn’t know the backstroke,” she said. “We made up our own strokes.”

But with the support of one another and a desire to finish what they started, they completed the race.

From Rambler to Racer

Since the 2019 Ramblin’ Rose Tri, Angie has competed in 3 races, including the Atlantic City 70.3 Half Ironman in 2021.

To get ready for these major races, Angie got serious about swimming, taking private swim lessons and practicing in the open water. She also found a personal triathlon coach to develop a training program tailored to her. 

And forget the Walmart Huffy, Angie now rides a Felt IA Ultegra 2022, a gift from her parents that “has so much cool stuff I’m almost afraid to ride it!” A prolific giver of nicknames, Angie donned her bike ‘Hurricane’ after inspiration from the bike shop salesman. Upon returning from a trial ride he exclaimed, “You left out of here like a hurricane – you’re going to stir some things up!”

Angie is definitely stirring things up on the course, and she’s also inspiring others on the streets at home. One day, four little Black girls saw her cycling and thought she was a Black superhero. Today, Angie’s tri-club sponsors these girls, who are now athletes in their own right. 

“Seeing someone who looks like you doing it makes you want to be like them,” said Angie.

With her fearless determination and infectious spirit, we all want to be a little bit like Angie.

Angie’s Tips & Lessons Learned for AgeGroupers: 

  • Building out your support team for this new endeavor from the get-go puts you in the best possible position to succeed. Learn more about starting on the right foot here. 
  • Build out an accountability system that works for you. It can be a training partner, social group or social media following. Whatever gets you out of bed.

If it’s in your budget, a coach will develop a highly personalized training program and hold you to it. A great coach is an expert, cheerleader and task-master. Investing in a coach is investing in yourself that you’ll show up and work hard. Read more to see if a coach is right for you here.