A few months before her 79th birthday, Luise Easton sat inside the trainer’s office at a trendy gym in Cleveland and lowered her voice to a near whisper. She was still a little sweaty from a two-hour bike ride — one that put her back on schedule to complete the even longer training sessions she needed to hit before her next race. Big plans lay ahead.
“You race at the age you are within a calendar year, so even though I’m 78, I race as a 79-year old now.” Easton said quietly but with giddy excitement. “So next year, I can race as an 80-year old in the world championships. Now that’s like, ooooh. Will there be anybody else?”
Easton has many reasons to be upbeat. Maybe the endorphin rush from the day’s workout was especially strong because it was one of her first after a seven-week break from training — a hiatus forced onto her by a collision during the bike leg of Ironman 70.3 Ohio. The last thing she remembers, she was approaching the 20-mile mark and feeling good. Then: Everything goes black. Someone clipped her front tire, and the resulting wreck put her in the hospital. When she came to, she had a broken collarbone and a long layoff ahead.
THE MAKING OF A TRIATHLETE
But that was then. Today, her mind abuzz with the potential of world titles, Easton speaks in enthusiastic bursts about the journey that’s led her here: She started swimming as an 8-year-old when her family lived in New Jersey. By the time she reached age 12, they had moved to Fairfield, Connecticut, where she continued swimming with a local girls club.
“I was a synchronized swimmer,” Easton says in a distinctly East Coast accent that hasn’t left her even after 50 years of Midwest living. “I was never very fast, but I could keep going.”
With her early start in sports, you might think Easton was a lifelong athlete. But her career as a competitor isn’t without a fair share of pauses and setbacks. Sports took an extended hiatus shortly after she finished college and started teaching physical education — first in Connecticut, then at a high school in Berea, Ohio, where she worked for 25 years.
For many of those years, “I wasn’t doing hardly anything,” Easton says. What changed? “I quit smoking in 1983. I started jogging to keep my weight under control.“
Jogging led to some 5K and 10K races. Her love of swimming led her to try triathlons — and she discovered she was pretty good. By 1989 she’d qualified for and competed in the Triathlon World Championships, earning a fifth-place finish at the event in Avignon, France.
Then came the injuries. She suffered foot issues that required three surgeries before they healed. The downtime put her out of training and caused her weight to shoot up to 256 pounds — extra baggage she doggedly trained off when she finally became healthy again and set her sights on returning to the World Triathlon Championships, 25 years after her first appearance there. In 2015 she achieved that goal, again earning a fifth-place finish at the World Triathlon Grand Final in Chicago.
“She’s got that old-school grit that makes her a true competitor and leader.”
“What has always struck me the most about Luise is her tenacity,” says Leah Nyikes, the founder and head coach of Liquid Lifestyles, Luise’s swim training group. “She’s got that old-school grit that makes her a true competitor and leader. She shows up determined and willing to push herself — and she isn’t shy about setting the tone in her lane either. If you’re not there to put the work in, you better move over.”
In addition to her pool work, Luise strength trains three days a week at Euphoria Health and Fitness, runs another three days and tries to log a total of at least three hours on the bike each week. She’s taking aim at placing on the world stage in two events: The aquathlon — a run-swim-run — and the aquabike, a swim-bike event. The world championships for both events will take place in Denmark next July. To get there, she first needs to go the distance in her qualifying events.
“If I place in the top 10 — which I will, because there’s not 10 people in my age group — that will qualify me for the world championships in Denmark next year. So all I have to do is finish,” Easton says.
She achieved the first step by completing the Pure Austin National Aquathlon Championships in early October. Next up: The National Aquabike Championship, a 1.2-mile swim followed by a 56-mile bike ride, taking place in Miami in November.
So what’s driving her to take on these events? “I do it because I can do it,” Easton says. “When I started, I was in my late 40s, and there were hardly any other people doing it. And now there’s the same amount of people in the 75-plus age group — there aren’t very many of us out there. So when people see you on the course, they give you a lot of, ‘Atta girl’s!’ Which is kinda nice.”
When she’s not training, she works as an artist. Each week she teaches arts and crafts at nearby senior centers and nursing homes. Sometimes she’ll paint kids’ faces at festivals to earn a little money, which helps pay for things like race entry fees. “Without it, I’d have to dip into my savings to cover those,” Easton says. “I don’t want to use that money until, you know, I’m old. I don’t think I’m there yet.”