‘Gotta Tri’ – Triathlon in The Villages, Florida

The Villages, Florida, located between Orlando and Ocala in central Florida, is a 55+ community like no other in the USA. To say that residents and visitors of every age and ability are required to stay active is no stretch. 

Thanks to The Villages Triathlon Club, triathlon is one of the sports growing here.

The Villages Triathlon Club Builds on an Active Lifestyle

If I were to pick one word to describe The Villages, I would choose ‘active’.

As just one example, consider that from 5 to 9 PM, 365 days per year, each of the three Town Squares has live music with residents and their guests filling the dance floors. 

To prepare for the evening, one needs to take afternoon dance lessons.  That is, unless you are golfing on one of the more than 50 courses, biking, doing water aerobics, playing pickleball at one of the roughly 150 courts, swimming in one of the 102 pools, or involved in any of the other hundred or so activities.

Triathlon-friendly ‘Biker Shuffle’ with Scooter The DJ at Spanish Springs Square in The Villages, Florida .

My Introduction to The Villages Triathlon Club

Reading the sports section of the daily newspaper of The Villages, The Daily Sun, has become a ritual when visiting the area. Articles in the paper often highlight accomplishments of active seniors. These stories never fail to encourage, inspire, and even amaze.

One article that especially grabbed my attention was that of a resident who had restarted swimming after quadruple bypass surgery.

Wanting to learn more about the story behind the story, I contacted the article’s author.  He eventually introduced me to Donna Maguire, founder and president of The Villages Triathlon Club.

members of The Villages Triathlon Club preparing for the swim
Members of The Villages Triathlon Club often race together at sprint to Ironman distance events.

Beginnings of The Villages Triathlon Club

Donna Maguire started The Villages Triathlon Club in April, 2015 after venturing back into the triathlon world following her and her husband’s move to The Villages. While in central Florida, she learned about nearby Clermont, the so-called ‘Triathlon Capital of the World’.

While The Villages had groups for almost every activity and interest imaginable, there were no running or triathlon clubs. However, that changed through a ‘chance’ encounter between Donna and another ‘Villager’, Pat Johnson.

“One day, I met Pat while we were both playing pickleball. She told me that she had just signed up for her first triathlon at age 70. Pat had no idea what she was in for,” said Donna with a smile.

“She had less than three weeks to prepare for the race. So, I took her under my wing and shared my limited experience and some of my equipment.   Helping her helped me. And with that, the idea that would lead to the triathlon club was born.”

Donna started sharing her vision with other triathletes.

“Many of them encouraged me to start a triathlon club. All I wanted to do was find people to train and play with. Did I ever!

“We now have both a triathlon club and a running club”.

The Villages Triathlon Club Today

The Villages Triathlon Club’s mission is “to provide, for all levels of athletic ability, a network of information, support services, training, racing, and social activities in a friendly and supportive environment”.

Membership is open to residents who are currently participating in triathlons or have completed races in the past and have a desire to get involved again. Also welcomed are first-timers who want to learn about and prepare for a multi-sport challenge.

She and many of the club’s members have become ambassadors for triathlon throughout The Villages and beyond. Members often attend triathlons as a club, complete with t-shirts, warm-ups, triathlon suits, and other apparel bearing the club logo which was designed by Donna.

Donna’s support for triathlon even shows in her e-mail signature which includes the words ‘Gotta Tri’.

Sharing Triathlon Information Among Club Members

Both the triathlon and running clubs have Facebook pages to foster communication and support among members. “We encourage all club members and meeting attendees to try to do a triathlon.”

“I’m not an expert and although I share my experience, I also want to be sure that members have a variety of levels of expertise and experience on which to draw.”

Monthly educational meetings are another way the club promotes triathlon for its members and anyone interested in competing in the sport. These meetings are a time for sharing “tons of information”. Many include guest speakers to discuss topics related to training, rest and recovery, nutrition, and racing.

Triathlon Training Events

The Villages Triathlon Club also regularly organizes training events for its members.

The club has group runs on Sunday mornings. During the week, members regularly get together for 60+ mile bike rides at one of the local trails.

The Villages Triathlon Club holds groups swims two mornings per week
The Villages Triathlon Club holds group swims two times per week in one of The Villages’ sports pools..

The club also has standing Tuesday and Thursday morning reservations at one of The Villages’ sports pools. During this time, swimmers of all levels, from beginner to experienced, meet to build their swim fitness and improve their triathlon-specific swim technique.

For example, the group works on swimming close together and drafting, to become accustomed with the contact that often occurs during the triathlon swim.

Club members have also met for group swims and practice triathlons at nearby Lake Minneola and Lake Weir. One of these events included a triathlon swim lesson from a professional triathlete.

The Villages Running Club also hosts group runs on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s morning that leave Lake Sumter Square at 6:30 AM during the summer months.

Before COVID-19 shutdowns, the club reserved Lake Sumter Square (one of the three Town Squares mentioned earlier) on Friday mornings for a free Boot Camp. 

Attendees would gather at 7 AM for a 4-mile run that included interval training. Then at 8 AM, the Boot Camp session was led by one of the club’s members. Finally, a yoga class was held at 9 AM for the most ambitious members. A priceless start of the day.

Why Do A Triathlon?

Why should someone in or approaching retirement age participate in triathlon?

According to The Villages Triathlon Club members, there are many benefits from training in the three different sports. There are health benefits from being stronger, more fit, and, for some, losing weight.

Training in swimming, biking, and running helps avoid overuse injuries by working different parts of the body. It also prevents boredom, which can lead to inconsistency.

There are also social benefits; meeting new people, developing friends with whom you can share successes and struggles as well as learn, or go golfing.

For Donna and many other club members, triathlon has also helped build confidence and mental strength.

Not learning to swim until later in my adult life, Donna had always had a fear and discomfort in the swim portion.

“Little by little I’ve started to overcome that fear, something I never thought I’d be able to do.  I keep reminding myself – ‘Just breathe’.

“We all have something that is scary and out of our comfort area. We can take the easy route and just avoid that situation or tackle it and feel confident.”

Donna Maguire, founder of The Villages Triathlon Club for senior triathletes
Senior triathlete, Donna Maguire celebrating her age group win at the 2015 Great Floridian GFT 1/3 Ironman Triathlon

Have Questions for The Villages Triathlon Club Members?

The Villages Triathlon Club highlights the value of the encouragement and camaraderie that comes from being part of a group that shares common goals and interests. For example, Donna has gone from ‘considering quitting triathlon’ to a 2x Ironman finisher during her time with The Villages Triathlon Club.

Feel free to post questions and comments for Donna and The Villages Triathlon Club members in the Comments section below.

This post was originally published on March 25, 2016. I updated it after Joy and I were in The Villages during April, 2021. During that stay, I had the privilege of presenting at The Villages Triathlon Club’s monthly meeting where I learned from these amazing and inspiring people. I also joined the club for one of their swim sessions.

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