Biathlon Participant: ‘I want to finish strong’

Deb Whitson, left, with her friend Deb Kerley, preparing for a ride on the Centennial Bike Trail in Springfield

Deb Whitson, left, with her friend Deb Kerley, preparing for a ride on the Centennial Bike Trail in Springfield

Deb Whitson had thought about doing the Women’s Biathlon before. But she didn’t.

“I always thought I couldn’t,” she said. “I thought you had to be a top-class athlete or something.”

This year, thanks to the invitation of her friend Deb Kerley (the two friends refer to themselves as “Deb Squared”), Whitson plans to participate in Memorial’s SportsCare’s annual Women’s Biathlon on Sept. 21. Biathlon participants will bike 12 miles and then complete a 5K (3.1-mile) run/walk.

Since December, Whitson has been working to get in better shape. With the exception of a few weeks this summer when she was directing a show at Theatre in Park in New Salem, she has gone to the YMCA several days a week. As a result, she has lost 30 pounds and increased her activity, strength and endurance.

“I thought about Deb Kerley’s suggestion, and I wanted a way to maintain a structured workout routine – which I can easily fall out of with work and other activities. And I thought it would be really cool to finish a biathlon,” Whitson said.

Deb Squared signed up for the Biathlon Brigade, a new 12-week training program SportsCare introduced this year to help participants train. Athletes meet twice a week and receive direction on how to safely and effectively get in shape for the event.

“I’m walking the event – not running – because I want to take care of my knee,” Whitson said. “The biking is something I’m very comfortable with. The brigade training schedule is very helpful to prepare for the 5K part, and I see now that I can do this.”

In addition to the Biathlon Brigade, Whitson uses a biking app that allows her progress to be viewable on Facebook. As she rides her hybrid sport bike, when friends like or comment on her status, the app vocalizes those encouragements to her. The app also tracks her speed, distance and time.

Whitson also encourages anyone who rides a bike to wear a helmet, which is mandatory for Biathlon participants. As a nurse, she formerly worked with people who had suffered a brain injury and now is an advocate for helmets.

“I always wear one – and I think it’s very important for all bikers,” she said. “I can’t talk about something like this without mentioning it.”

For now, Whitson is focused on having fun during her training, and finishing the Biathlon.

“That’s my goal. I want to finish strong,” she said.

About the Biathlon: The Memorial SportsCare Women’s Biathlon is a noncompetitive event organized for women to encourage healthy living. SportsCare’s annual women’s biathlon is a USAT-sanctioned event and held annually in September. The event begins this year at 9 a.m. Sept. 21 at Memorial SportsCare (4550 W. Iles, Springfield).

The biathlon includes 12 miles of biking on gently rolling hills followed by 3.1 miles (5K) of mostly flat-course running. Visit for complete details and to register.

Volunteers Needed: If you are interested in volunteering at this year’s event, please visit for more information.