The community of Fort Saskatchewan gained an ironman after Barbara Bouwman, 53, successfully ran the 2022 Penticton competition this past Sunday (Aug. 28). 

The ironman race is one of the most physically taxing athletic events a person can take part in. The triathlon includes a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike ride, and a gruelling 41km run to finish things off. 

To undergo such a journey would require a lot of motivation, which Bouwman found in an unusual place. 

“I started this journey five years ago when I did an Olympic distance triathlon because I didn’t know how to swim,” said Bouwman. “I thought, well, I’m getting older; I should really learn how to swim.” 

“Then I thought I should do a half ironman.” 

Bouwman’s plan to upgrade from an Olympic distance triathlon to a half-ironman triathlon didn’t quite work out as she expected. 

“I signed up for [the Penticton ironman] and posted on Facebook and said ‘I’m going to do a half ironman,” said Bouwman. “Then I got comments saying ‘no Barbie, that’s a full [ironman].” 

“So I accidentally signed up for it, to begin with.”

The plan was to run the race back in 2020, but after the pandemic hit, the competition was cancelled. The 2021 iteration seemed to be on track, but it was also shuttered just 33 days before the race was supposed to take place. 

Bouwman says that the delays presented a whole new set of challenges for her. 

“It was difficult at times to continue training,” said Bouwman. “There were times where I didn’t think I could pull this off.” 

“The first year, I was pretty motivated and said I can train a second time. When it got cancelled last year, I was pretty defeated and I took a couple of months off to really dig deep and figure out what it is that drove me forward.” 

She wound up finding that reason in her support group of both her family and friends. So Bouwman went to the 2022 race. 

The race itself was as punishing as it sounds. Bouwman started it off with the swimming portion, which she says almost defeated her early on. 

“Once I got into the water I was scared beyond belief,” said Bouwman. “About 400 meters in, I had a huge panic attack and was being smoked in the head, swam over, punched in the head and sides, people were grabbing at me…it was literally something out of a movie.” 

Through all that, Bouwman persevered and got through the entire competition with a time of 16 hours and 39 minutes. Crossing the finish line was an unforgettable experience for her. 

“I thought I was going to be a blubbering mess, but I was just on such a high,” said Bouwman. “It’s not an emotion I can explain, it is everything and then some.” 

“Coming onto that red carpet, it is truly a monumental and life-changing moment.” 

Bouwman was also keen on mentioning her husband, who supported her all throughout the process and her granddaughter, who she calls her ‘Mango’, for keeping her youthful spirit alive in challenging times. 

This will most likely be Bouwman’s last attempt at an ironman event, but she still plans on participating in half-ironmans in the future. 

One thing is for certain, Bouwman will always be on an exclusive list of Fort Sask women that have completed an ironman joining the likes of Darlene Kilbride and Cheri Onushko, who accomplished their ironmen status in 2013 and 2015.