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Longtime Greenwich Triathlete Heads To Ironman

GREENWICH, Conn. – A broken collarbone cost Joanne Dondero, of White Plains, N.Y., a shot at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii last year. The 65-year-old member of the Greenwich Triathlon Club fought back to earn a return trip this year for her eighth Ironman.

Dondero got hurt last September on a training ride on the North County Trail in Westchester. “A stick got wedged in my fork and wheel rim,’’ she said. “I went head over heels, bounced on my head a few times and landed on my shoulder. I’ve been riding for 25 years without a broken bone, so I’ve been pretty fortunate.”

With the help of Greenwich Triathlon Club physician Andrew Haas, Dondero recovered. Haas, who was injured in his own biking accident in 2005, will also be racing in Hawaii. “He knew that I wanted to go back to Kona, and it inspired me to work a little bit harder,’’ Dondero said. “I coached him on his comeback to triathlons.”

Dondero qualified for the world championship race in August at the New York Ironman. The race was the one and only to be held in New York: Race officials have canceled future Ironmans in New York.

Dondero needed to win her age group to qualify. She finished in 16 hours, 33 minutes and 3 seconds. “All along, I kept checking out who was racing because only one the winner from that age group qualifies for Hawaii,’’ she said.

Dondero, who also coaches triathletes, began competing in them in 1987. She has competed in more than 100 races of all distances, including events in Australia and Europe. She has finished seven Ironmans, including three in Kona. She won her age group three times in the St. Croix Half Ironman and set an age group record with her victory in 2007. She won her age group in the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon in 2008, a race that draws an international field. She has also completed eight marathons, including New York and Boston.

“I started running in my 30s and did 10Ks and 5Ks,’’ said Dondero, who also played tennis, basketball and softball. “I’m glad I found the triathlon. Cross training for triathlons has helped me a lot throughout the years. I think if I had stuck with running, I wouldn’t have the knees to run any more.”

When Dondero started triathlon training, there were few of the technological gadgets that now make training easier. “I had to go get books to find a training program,’’ Dondero said. “Nutrition? You had a water bottle, and that’s about it. I had a Huffy 10-speed bike that I rode to the track at White Plains High School. I hopped off and ran a mile. That was the beginning of it all.”

She has had success, winning events outright when she started and still frequently making the podium in her age group. “The running gets slower after all the years, but my swimming has really improved,’’ she said. “My bike still needs work.”

Dondero taught physical education for 32 years in White Plains and Peekskill and coached field hockey, basketball and volleyball.

“At the time, I liked coaching kids and it was fine for that time and I knew it was part of their experience,’’ Dondero said. “What I like about adults is I get some immediate gratification. They’re so appreciative. ... I  think that the best advice I can give for anyone interested in doing triathlons for the long term is to learn how to perform the skills for each sport as efficiently as possible. This will save wear and tear on your body and decrease the chance of injuries.’’

Dondero plans to keep competing as long as her body allows. “I know as an older person I have to rest a little more,’’ she said. “I’ll keep doing it until my body tells me I shouldn’t. As long as I don’t have knee issues, there’s no reason to stop."

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