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Durable Bonnie Hirshberger: On the move from marathons to (gulp) triathlons

Lake Oswego's citizen information specialist teams with her husband to be an athletic household of note
by: VERN UYETAKE Bonnie Hirshberger teams up some interesting areas for a fascinating lifestyle. Although she has already run 38 marathons, she is now setting her sights on participating in something even more ambitious: Triathlons.

One day 10 years ago a friend of Bonnie Hirshberger told her she was preparing to run in a marathon.

'Getting ready for a marathon,' Hirshberger said. 'I thought that was so cool.

'Then I thought, 'What the heck, I might as well go for it.' I thought how cool it would be to say I had run a marathon.'

You can now consider Bonnie Hirshberger the queen of cool. Since her friend so impressed her in 2001, Hirshberger has run a whopping 38 marathons.

Only now that isn't quite enough to satisfy her urge to compete. This year she has taken up triathlons and is starting to rise in the rankings of her age group.

Hirshberger is tall and lovely and has long, curly dark hair. She looks like she would be involved in some kind of inspirational sports activity like cheerleading or being an NFL sideline reporter.

Instead, she is gutting it out in some of the toughest, most demanding sports, and she looks very happy doing it.

'It's been fun,' Hirshberger said. 'This motivates me to get off the sofa. When you finish an event like the marathon you get such a great feeling. I'm not a speed demon. I finish strong and have a good time. I did get first in my age group in one marathon and I got second twice.

'It's more a personal thing. I compete with myself. It's another medal I can hang on the wall.'

She also does it for fun. Hirshberger is a member of a club called the Running Dawgs, and they turn competing in marathons into vacations.

'We travel all over the place,' Hirshberger said, 'We've been to the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. three times. It's absolutely beautiful. I've been to New York City, Florida, Texas, Nevada, Minnesota, Arizona and Canada.

'It's all about people, and I have so much fun. Huge fun with a wonderful group of people.'

It also helps to have a good training partner. Hirshberger has a perfect one in her husband Eric, a former Marine, who has competed in 15 triathlons and is still going strong despite four knee operations.

Naturally, it was Eric who inspired Bonnie to take up the triathlon. She tried it, she liked it and she is good at it. She finished fourth at the recent Deschutes Triathlon in her age bracket.

'I'm totally enjoying it,' Hirshberger said. 'I'm not a good swimmer, but I'm a really good dog paddler. I love swimming in open water. I start in May even though the water is freezing because it's so much nicer to be in open water.'

Hirshberger also invested in a nice road bike and 'luckily I liked bike riding. You use a totally different set of muscles. Slow and steady, that's me.

'Clackamette Cove (on the Clackamas River near Oregon City) is wonderful for swimming, and we have great opportunities for bike riding.'

When she is not running, swimming and biking for long distances, Hirshberger is citizen information specialist for the city of Lake Oswego and she resides in West Linn. She admits to liking food too much, and that is one reason why she is so active.

So, her upcoming schedule of triathlons will make Hirshberger slimmer and trimmer than ever.

Still, when you talk about triathlons, you must talk about the Iron Man in Hawaii, the ultimate endurance test in sports. When she talks about the possibility of doing the Iron Man, Hirshberger rolls her eyes.

'I can't imagine swimming 2 miles, riding a bike 10 miles, then running a marathon. I know how tired I am after doing a marathon.'

Still, Hirshberger is leaving the door open.

'Who knows?' she said. 'It could happen.'

As Hirshberger herself once said, 'What the heck.'