When Sue Reynolds was living in Columbus in 2012, she was having trouble fitting into a restaurant booth, fastening her seat belt and putting on her socks and tying her shoes.
At 335 pounds and 59 years old, she knew something had to change.
By 2017, five years later and 200 pounds lighter, Reynolds was the one of the top sprint triathletes in the world in the Women’s 60-64 age division. She finished sixth overall and was the top American finisher in the World Championships in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
“I had been dieting all of my life, and my ‘Why’ for losing weight had changed,” Reynolds said. “It used to be that I wanted to look nice because on TV, you see thin women all the time. This time, what really motivated me was, when you’re that big, there are so many things you can not do. I had to ask my husband to put on my socks and shoes for me. There’s just so much you can’t do when you’re obese. That was my ‘Why’ this time.”
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A native of the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan, Reynolds attended DePauw University and then obtained her master’s from Indiana University. She moved to Columbus shortly after graduation and stayed here for 33 years before moving to Bloomington.
It was late in her time in Columbus that Reynolds began exercising. She started out by walking to her neighbor’s driveway on Chestnut Avenue and back. She eventually moved to the People Trails.
“There was a woman when I would go out and walk and started running a little bit, every day she would pass me on her bike, and she would say, ‘Looking good,'” said Reynolds, who moved to Bloomington later that year. “I know I wasn’t looking good, but she kept me going. There’s a woman in Columbus who will never know, but she helped me get to where I am.”
Before long, Reynolds was entered in the Krispy Kreme 5K in Lexington, Kentucky, at the urging of her husband Brian and sons Mike and Andy. She walked the 3.1-mile course and finished last.
“To this day, that’s the hardest race I’ve ever done,” Reynolds said. “I was close to red-line the whole way. I was 200 pounds overweight. You think about carrying a 20-pound bag of ice. It was like I was carrying 10 of those.”
Reynolds joined a “Next Generation” fitness class and a spin class. After moving to Bloomington, she joined a “Couch To 5K” Running program.
In March 2013, Reynolds did her first triathlon, an indoor event at Indiana University. That summer, she did the Indianapolis Sprint Triathlon at Eagle Creek.
By that time, Reynolds was hooked on the sport of triathlons. So she hired a coach, Brant Bahler of Bloomington.
In 2015, Reynolds qualified for her first World Championships, the 2016 event in Cozumel, Mexico. She had fastest bike split among women in her age group.
“My first time I ever did anything sports-wise was when I was 60 years old,” Reynolds said. “I wouldn’t refer to myself as an athlete. I would call myself an ‘Athlete wannabe.’ When I was on the start line at the Worlds in 2016, I was like, ‘Three years ago, I couldn’t even tie my shoes, and here I am competing against the best in the world.’ It was kind of scary. But I had to develop all of that mental confidence.”
A year later, Reynolds used another fast bike leg to propel her to the title in Lausanne.
“It was a really technical bike course,” Reynolds said. “It was built for me. It allowed me to excel at the things I do well. I am a slow runner. I hope I’m far enough ahead of people after the swim and bike that they don’t catch me on the run.”
Since then, Reynolds has competed in the World Championships in 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia and 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland. She was to compete at this year’s Worlds in Edmonton, Canada, but that was canceled because of COVID-19. She has qualified for 2021 Worlds, which will be in either Edmonton or Bermuda.
Last November, Reynolds did her first half-Ironman triathlon in Wilmington, North Carolina, and a month later, she finished second in her age division in the national Aquabike Championship in Miami to earn All-American honors. She is planning to return to both of those events this fall.
“Everybody asks sprinters, ‘Are you going to do an Ironman?’ But in track and field, nobody asks Usain Bolt if he’s going to run a mile,” Reynolds said. “I’m a sprinter. The training is different. I compete in the sprint events, and I do the half-Ironmans for fun.”
The 66-year-old Reynolds, a former National High School Counselor of the Year, is a motivational speaker and an ambassador for USA Triathlon Foundation and Newton Running. She is retired from Indiana Department of Education and the non-profit American Student Achievement Institute and recently released her first book, “The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity, and Faith.”
The book has three main parts. The first part of the book is about Reynolds’ journey of losing 200 pounds in three years, the second part is about discovering triathlons as recreational triathlete and the third part is about becoming a highly competitive triathlete and competing at the World Championships.
“I said there’s no reason I can’t train like an Olympian,” Reynolds said. “I was all in. I was building my confidence so I could compete at a high level.”
“The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity, and Faith” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. Reynolds is donating all of the funds to USA Triathlon Foundation, and the funds are earmarked to help triathletes with disabilities pursue their dreams in the sport.
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Name: Sue Reynolds
Hometown: Birmingham, Michigan
Colleges: DePauw (undergrad), Indiana University (master’s)
Occupation: Retired from Indiana Department of Education and the non-profit American Student Achievement Institute
Family: Husband Brian, sons Mike and Andy, four grandchildren
Of note: Reynolds recently wrote “The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity, and Faith,” which is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. All of the funds will help paratriathletes.