It’s never too late: Interview with energetic 80-year old Daphne Belt

Celebrating her 80th birthday in 2019, Daphne Belt has no plans to hang up her trisuit.

A Windsor Triathlon regular, Daphne has raced all over the world, including 3 coveted Hawaii World Championship performances. We caught up with her to talk about starting triathlon later in life and why it is never too late.

Daphne at the 2019 2019 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Lausanne

Your first triathlon was after you turned 50. What inspired you to take up the sport?

Hitting 50 was a nasty moment for me! Turning 40 had slipped by unnoticed, it didn’t bother me at all. But 50? I became very aware of my age and that I had put weight on, having let my fitness levels go to pot.

Soon after I turned 50, a young family friend shared an article with us from 220 Triathlon magazine on the Hawaii World Championship in Kona. We all laughed and declared that an Ironman distance wasn’t possible! Little did I know, I would go on to compete at Kona 3 times myself!

Our friend was very sporty at the time so my husband and I entered him into a short local triathlon and pitched to support him. I guess you could say the seed had been sown! My husband and I soon started running together. These were short jog walks at first, linking together longer bursts of jogging as we went on. My husband was a competitive swimmer when he was young and had experience coaching, so we started up swimming again and he taught me front crawl. From starting in the September, I then did my first swim run event in Kingston-Upon-Thames in the February – and I haven’t looked back!


Were you sporty previously?

Though I don’t have an athletic background, I had been a very heathy child and I was a dancer all through my youth. Ballet, tap, acrobatics – you name it, I did it. In my teenage years, I loved to jive and took up ballroom, intending to become a teacher. I gave it all up when I married the first time.

Triathlon was all very new to me, though I could swim. I have lived close to the seaside most of my life and so I was fairly confident in the open water. I had no idea how to swim front crawl however!

You do not need a strong sports background to take up triathlon – at any age. Just take it steady and build distance step by step. Don’t push for speed until feel comfortable and have built some strength.

What has changed most in triathlon since you started out?

There are a lot more rules now. It has grown into a marvellous sport and it is exciting to see so many people of all ages training and racing enthusiastically. In the early days everybody knew everybody – we raced in fields of around 100 people total, compared to the thousands who participate now.

With over 30 years involved in triathlon, what keeps you motivated?

I just love it all. It has kept me very fit and I will go on as long as I still make the cut off times. My husband is my coach and training partner. It is great to spend time together doing something active. We both love to travel and have been very fortunate to race in some beautiful destinations. It is also the most wonderful sport for making friends.

Keeping active and having events to look forward to is wonderful for the mind and the body.

Having celebrated your 80th birthday last year, you are a pioneer in the sport. Do you have any training tips for other athletes in their wiser years?

You need to start things up slower than the youngsters. Keep at it though, don’t give up! Listen to your niggles and prioritise rest to reduce your risk of injuries. This is true at any age but injuries can be harder to overcome as you age, so being in tune with your body is even more vital for the older athlete.

Adapt your training to where you are at. I do not do as many miles running as I did 20 years ago, given running is the most injurious. I am a plodder and tend to stay close to my comfort zone these days!

What are your race plans for 2020?

I have over 13 races and events pencilled in between now and September, including Windsor Triathlon, 3 half iron distance races and 1 full. Obviously, many may now be cancelled or postponed with the Covid-19 situation – but I am taking it as a good opportunity to up my mental training!

You’ve been a Windsor regular; what does this race mean to you?

I have raced Windsor many times over the last 30 years. I think I only missed it when it collided with World Championships or my yearly Ironman. Windsor is somewhat of a tradition. It is a wonderful race – even when it rains like last year!  It has been the best race in the UK all these years if you ask me. Just look at the venue! Windsor Castle, the River Thames, the Berkshire countryside – the course is magical.

It also is a good challenge!

What would you say to people who think they left it too late to start a new sport?

Quite simply, there is no such thing as too late. You may have to adapt your approach, you may have to go slower than you’d like at first but you can do it, whatever your age or ability.

If you are taking on your first triathlon in 2020, take your first race easy. Be patient and just enjoy it. On race day, remember that this was your choice, your challenge.

For you, what lessons from triathlon and sport can be applied to life more generally?

In triathlon and life, give thanks that you are healthy, smile and laugh a lot and be kind. Help as many people as you can, as people will have helped you on your way.

When things get tough, plod on. You never know who you are inspiring which bolsters my determination. Go slower and fall back into your comfort zone if you need to in order to finish. I think this is true when faced with one of life’s challenges or when you’re tired in a race!

Daphne with Rachel Jones in Lausanne: they have been racing together almost 30 years.