Ellen McCarthy, Iron Lady

Two years ago she'd never done a triathlon. Now she's headed for her third Ironman competition.

Ellen McCarthy at the Ironman World Championship in 2016

When Ellen McCarthy’s mother was diagnosed in 2015 with multiple myeloma, a rare type of blood cancer, she felt powerless to help. That is, until six months later when McCarthy found out the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) raised funds with endurance events. “I signed up on the spot for the Lake Placid Ironman,” says the Falls Church resident.

There were just a few potential problems with her plan to compete. The event was 10 months away and consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, a 26.2-mile run and a 112-mile bike ride. A single mom with a busy government affairs career, McCarthy, then 51, had never completed a triathlon, and although she’d finished a half-triathlon a decade earlier, “I hadn’t been in a pool since, and I could barely swim 100 yards,” she recalls. “I thought, Oh my, how am I going to do this?

At the same time, the 5-foot-1 contender was a former U.S. Marine, having spent 23 years on active duty and in the reserves, and describes herself as “pretty disciplined.” She hired a swim coach and started getting up every day at 4 a.m. to train.

In July 2016, McCarthy completed her first Ironman in just under 16 hours. Along the way, she raised $35,700 for research on multiple myeloma, the cancer that had taken the life of her mother, Beatrice Glynn, five months earlier.

Finishing that first race in memory of her mom wasn’t McCarthy’s only achievement. Because she had raised more money than any other participant in her event, she earned the chance to enter the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii on behalf of the MMRF.

Once again she had reservations. The Hawaii race was only nine weeks away. “I didn’t know if I could do another one,” she says. “I was wrecked.” Not only did she make it there and complete each leg, she managed to cut 90 minutes off her finish time.

In July, McCarthy will compete in the 2017 Ironman Lake Placid. Then she’ll start training for a 43-hour trek from the small Nepalese mountain town of Lukla (elevation 9,320 feet) to the Mount Everest base camp at 18,190 feet, a journey scheduled for March 2018. Both events are fundraisers, and the Everest team will include several multiple myeloma patients.

McCarthy says she’s proud to raise money for a charity that spends 90 percent of its budget on cancer research. The lesson she’s learned for herself? “You’re never too old.”

Visit her page at endurance.themmrf.org/2018Everest/Ellenmccarthy.

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