Wyoming’s Barb Lindquist spent most of her youth and college years as an accomplished swimmer — making the U.S. National Swim Team, competing as a NCAA swimmer for Stanford University and winning gold and silver medals in the Pan American Games before retiring from the pool.
Lindquist returned to Wyoming where she waited tables and skied in Jackson while figuring out what to do with her life. A friend was competing in a local triathlon and invited her to join in the swim, bike and run race.
“I can do all these,” recalled Lindquist in an interview.
Adding biking and running to swimming ultimately led Lindquist to her next career — becoming a world class powerhouse in the sport of triathlon.
Lindquist, originally from Casper, placed ninth in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2003-2004.
Competing around the globe as a professional triathlete before retiring in 2005, Lindquist won 33 of her 134 career races and landed on the podium 86 times.
Lindquist, 45, who now lives in Alta, will be the featured speaker at the Montana’s Women’s Run kickoff dinner on Friday in Billings. And she will be racing in the Women’s Run, her first race in a year. “I’m so excited,” she said.
Lindquist also is holding a triathlon clinic on swim, run and race strategies on Saturday afternoon after the Women’s Run. The clinic for up to 20 participants is open to women and men and will be held at the Billings Family YMCA.
The clinic will focus on techniques for swimming and running. Lindquist also will be discussing strategies for pacing, nutrition and the transitions between each sport to help athletes put everything together for race day.
A triathlon combines swimming, biking and running into one race. The swims can be in pools or in open water, like the ocean or lakes.
The distances vary from a sprint, which generally is a half-mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run, to a full or Ironman distance, which is a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run.
An Olympic distance triathlon is a .93-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike and a 6.2-mile run.
Lindquist, who ran her first triathlon at age 23 and turned pro at 26, has competed in all distances but the Olympic remains her favorite.
“Olympic distance racing is just as challenging and just as hard as an Ironman,” she said. But the distance also is “very doable for many people,” she added.
Lindquist, who was 35 when she competed in the 2004 Olympics, called representing the United States the “proudest point of my career.”
The triathlon became an Olympic event in 2000. The exposure, she said, raised awareness about the sport’s other distances beyond most people’s knowledge of a triathlon, which is the annual IRONMAN held in Hawaii.
While traveling, people will ask her on the plane what she does, she said. When she responds that she is a triathlete, Lindquist said people ask, “Have you done that one in Hawaii?”
Well, has she?
“You know what, I have,” answered Lindquist.
When she did not make the Olympic team in 2000, Lindquist got a letter from the World Triathlon Corporation, which runs the IRONMAN competitions, inviting her race in Hawaii. The race was her first Ironman distance and her first marathon.
“I raced Olympic distances that summer. I increased my long rides and long runs. That was all I needed to do,” she said.
Triathlons have seen increasing participation, especially since its Olympic debut. Membership in USA Triathlon, the national governing organization formed in 1982 for the sport, hit a record high in 2013, increasing to 174,787 members, or 5.5 percent from 2012, according the organization’s website.
One of the organization’s initiatives this year is to increase women’s membership, said Lindquist, who was inducted in 2010 into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. “We still feel like it’s an untapped area,” she said.
There are women who grew up in a generation where “sports was not encouraged or supported as much as it is now,” Lindquist said.
Lindquist will meet 40-something women who tell her they could never do a triathlon. She disagrees and says she sees men and women of all shapes and sizes racing.
Lindquist said her mother was 56 when she competed in her first sprint triathlon and went on to run marathons, including the Boston marathon. Her mother’s goal when she started “was to lose 10 pounds,” she said.
Triathlons appeal to women who work hard and have goals, Lindquist said. “We know how to play hard and make it fun as well. I think for women there’s a certain social aspect to doing racing. I love the social aspect of triathlon,” she said.
“The sport itself can be overwhelming,” Lindquist acknowledged.
There is the technique of how to swim and bike and run without getting injured, she said. There is the gear. And there are the logistics of training.
“How do I fit this into my life when I have a family and work? It can definitely be intimidating,” Lindquist said.
Of the three sports, swimming tends to be the scariest, Lindquist said.
There is “a life-and-death element” to the swim, she said, that comes from a “whole bunch of factors” like not being able to see the bottom and getting jostled by other swimmers. “The run you can walk. And the bike you can slow down,” she said.
Reaching out to coaches and mentors and participating in local swim, biking and running clubs, clinics and webinars are good ways to get started, Lindquist said.
The triathlon community, she said, is “a very giving and open and encouraging family.”
After retiring to start her own family, Lindquist also began a coaching and public speaking business and works part-time for USA Triathlon. She and her husband, Loren, are raising 8-year-old twin boys and enjoy an active outdoors lifestyle.
Lindquist said she still trains “for sanity” and enjoys racing to support her community and to be a role model.