Submitted by Kevin Grogan
Lisa Bentley is an 11-time Ironman Triathlon Champion; not to mention the dozens of half Ironman races she has won overall. During the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run, it is hard to find a more positive person out there on the race course. Even during the grueling nine-hour event, she is easy to spot with a very genuine smile sharing positive words of encouragement to her competitors. She has been living & training in Clermont as long as most local triathletes can remember and is definitely a phenomenal athlete to have around town. The Tablet tracked down Bentley after a recent hill running session near the Skyridge Climb on the South Lake Trail.
Tablet: Talk about how you started in the sport of triathlon & your athletic background.
Bentley: I was a runner for the University of Waterloo (1500 m and Cross Country). I was injured often, so I used to swim and bike to stay in shape. My dad and I bought my first bike; a Steve Bauer bike for $300. It even had a kick stand and I thought I might ride a bit more to help my running. Then some friends at the University convinced me to do the bike portion in a relay of a duathlon (run-bike-run). It was social and so much fun! It was like a big party and I was hooked.
Tablet: You drive down from your northern home in Etobicoke, Ontario to your Florida home here in Clermont a few times a year; a lot of miles. Is the trip down to warmer weather more exciting or stressful?
Bentley: It is both. But I do not like the cold weather, so I am happy to live the easy lifestyle in Florida. And I love the small town feel of Clermont. Everyone is friendly. It is so easy to be active and activity is central to my lifestyle.
Tablet: Eleven Ironman overall wins & inducted into Canadian Triathlon Hall of Fame. Does one race stick out to you looking back on your storied career?
Bentley: They are all very special. Ironically, I am re-reading all of my training logs and race reports right now since I am writing a book “Unlikely Champion”. I am recalling some amazing memories. Every race has a story. The Ironman World Championships 2004 was likely the most special. I was so sick with a raging chest infection, but I used mental visualization and reframed the circumstances making it seem like it was a gift to be so sick on race day. I have Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic lung disease which causes an abnormal amount of mucus to grow in the lungs resulting in frequent lung infections and decreased lung capacity. It is definitely not a great condition to have as a professional athlete. But I told myself that I would be the best athlete on the start line at the IRONMAN World Championships with CF and with a lung infection. I believed that I was so lucky to get to race as a professional woman and have CF. I just focused on loving the wind, the heat, my competitors. I smiled all day and celebrated how lucky I was. I finished 4th overall in the World! I did not cough all day long. That was a huge mental victory. The next day, I was extremely sick!! But the mind can elevate the body to do incredible things.
Tablet: You still compete in some running races every year but now most of your focus is coaching athletes. Does your triathlon experiences help you to better relate to your elite athletes?
Bentley: Yes, there is not one single experience that I have not dealt with. I was far less talented than most of my competitors and so I had to learn everything. I know what my athletes are thinking. I know what they will feel when they are racing and training. So, I detail suggestions in their training plans on how to deal with the curveballs. There is nothing that they will experience that I have not problem solved and overcome at some stage in my own career.
Tablet: Talk about 1988 when you found out you had Cystic Fibrosis. You have basically trained and raced with your lungs at 50% capacity.
Bentley: I was diagnosed with CF at 20 years of age when I was attending University of Waterloo. My older sister had been coughing up blood and by process of elimination, she tested positive for CF. People with CF have salty sweat and the presence of a high concentration of sodium chloride in her sweat chloride test concluded the diagnosis. Given that it is a genetic disease, the rest of my siblings were tested. Both my brother Gerry and I tested positive. My mother and father do not have CF. They each carry the gene for CF and 3 out of 4 of us children got the matching pair resulting in CF!!
My lung capacity would go up and down depending on infection. I am frequently on very strong antibiotics and have to do breathing therapies with a nebulizer. in 2009, my lung capacity went from 100% in July to 77% in September and then to 56% in January 2010. A 10% drop is huge. Remember that 50% lung capacity is 1 lung (we have 2 lungs). So I suffered at 85%. It is not like a math score of 85%. 85% means that I am getting a water bottle less oxygen in each breath than normal. After the drop to 56%, I was hospitalized and put on IV antibiotics for 5 weeks! Even then, my lung function only returned to 70%. But I wanted to come to Florida so I asked for the IV line to be removed so that I could get into the warmth. Gradually over the next 2 years, my lung function got up to 80-85%. I have never returned to 100%.
Tablet: How long have you been training in Clermont & what is your favorite thing about living here.
Bentley: I started to train in Clermont in 2002. I raced professionally until 2009 so when I came to Clermont, I was coming for the great cycling and running and swimming. I love the training here. I love the people. I love that most people are active.
Tablet: “Lisa always has a smile on her face. Just a happy person full of encouragement to her fellow athletes,” quoted one of your athletes. When you’re out there grinding away during a long session, where does all this happiness come from?
Bentley: Wow! I choose to be happy. It is so much easier to be happy and to love what I am doing than to grunt through. I genuinely love everything I do. Smiling makes even the toughest task easy.
Tablet: You train & work with your husband David. Tell us how you compliment each other in your day to day lives.
Bentley: Dave is a free spirit and much less routine orientated than I am, so we are a good balance. He has definitely taught me to smell the roses and savoir every moment. When I was racing, he would join me for the last 2-3 hours of a 6-hour ride and run with me sometimes and do some shorter swims with me. He also loves to travel so it was fun to share my racing travels with him. It gave me tremendous comfort to have there and kept me grounded. It allowed me to be Lisa the athlete and Lisa the wife.
We are very different in many ways, but we have the same values which makes us a great pair!!
Tablet: Anything else you would like to add?
Bentley: I do believe that I am blessed with the gift of Cystic Fibrosis even though most people would challenge such a statement. When a child is diagnosed with CF, the parents are so sad. They know that their child may have a life of illness, possible lung transplant and an early death. But then they hear about me – someone who has thrived with CF and they have hope. That is my gift. That is why I was blessed with a triathlon career. It is a platform for hope for families with CF.
I get scared sometimes too that I will get sick. I was very scared in 2011 when I was on IV for 5 weeks. But we can be brave and scared at the same time and live full and seize every single moment.