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Originally published Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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67-year-old woman takes triathlon plunge with Seattle Danskin

For Jeanne Verville, a 67-year-old from Seattle, pushing herself to attempt the Seattle Danskin Triathlon is just another in a series of life-changing challenges. She will be one of more than 4,000 competitors taking the plunge Sunday in one of the two largest women's triathlons.

Special to The Seattle Times

Danskin Women's Triathlon

Where: Seward Park

When: Sunday; first wave 6:45 a.m.

What: Sprint triathlon (half-mile swim, 12.5-mile bike, 3.1-mile run), benefiting Cancer Research Foundation

Entrants: About 4,300 (including individuals on teams)

Registration: Field is full.

Seeking an antidote for advancing age? Try accepting new challenges. Pushing beyond perceived limits. Facing fears.

That's the game plan for Jeanne Verville of Seattle, who on Sunday will plunge into her latest self-imposed dare.

Just after 6:45 a.m., Verville, 67, will splash into Lake Washington and begin the first stage of the Seattle Danskin Triathlon, the first triathlon of her life.

Verville will be one of more than 4,000 entrants at Seward Park for the 16th annual Seattle Danskin, which race organizers call one of the two largest races for women.

It's the latest oversized step that Verville, a semiretired corporate lawyer, has assigned herself in an unending campaign to stretch her personal boundaries.

"Aging is not for the faint of heart," Verville said. "Part of meeting that challenge is keeping my courage up. Pushing myself to try new things helps me do that."

Over the past eight years, Verville has introduced herself to sea kayaking, taken up jazz singing, joined an improvisational-acting collective and studied memoir writing.

Verville is not alone in thinking age is no barrier to a sprint-distance triathlon. The Seattle Danskin field includes 963 women age 50 or older; 176 who are 60 or older; and 17 who are 70-plus. The oldest entrant, 81-year-old Matsue Watanabe, of Tukwila, will be competing in her eighth Danskin.

That's wonderful, says Verville, who shrugs off her age.

"I don't feel that old," she said. "That number doesn't mean anything to me. A person can give up and be old, or she can keep on living."

So, while still serving as senior counsel at Simpson Investment, Verville began seeking new challenges.

"At work, I got plenty of intellectual stimulation," she said. "But I wanted to keep other parts of me alive. I wanted to stretch myself, have more balance, more fun."

Challenge No. 1, sea kayaking, delivered both spills and thrills. Twice she capsized in Deception Pass. "That shook me up," she said. "But I made myself get back in the kayak and face down that fear because I wanted to keep kayaking."

She coped with the fear of being the oldster in her improvisational-acting troupe. For jazz singing, she had to revive a voice that was last utilized many years earlier at church, then work up the nerve to sing solo at Tula's Jazz Club in Belltown. In her writing classes, she had to ditch her fear of sharing her prose with others.

Verville, who entered law school at the University of Kansas at 41, is no stranger to tackling big challenges late in life. Self-initiative, she believes, yields big rewards.

"It's been nothing but positive," Verville said of her recent accomplishments. "The more you learn about something by trying to do it, the more you appreciate it.

"I feel confident in the water and on my bike now," she said. "I listen to jazz in a completely different way now. And when a friend needed me to write my memories about a horse show, I was able to write a nice seven-page story. It was fun to do, and I felt confident doing it.

"Now I have new skills," she said, "and I've met a lot of nice people along the way. It all enhances my life."

The mother of two athletic daughters expects the same from her Danskin experience, though she got serious about training only in June.

"It's hard," she said. "You have to fight inertia. It's easy to roll over in the morning and just work the crossword puzzle."

Verville's last race of any kind, a 10K run, took place more than 30 years ago. She had not ridden a bike for 10 years after a fall that left her with a broken shoulder. A recent trial swim in cold Lake Washington resulted in a "panic attack."

"I couldn't catch my breath," she recalled. "All I could do was practically a dog paddle for a half-mile swim. Later I made myself go back and swim in that lake. Now I feel more comfortable and confident I can do it."

Regardless of where she places Sunday, Verville already considers the endeavor well worth the effort.

"I feel new energy and motivation to do all sorts of things," she said. "I love this feeling."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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