Canadian-born Anne Shawhan got the name for her fitness business from an old boyfriend.
Shawhan, a five-time All-American swimmer at Florida State University, the boyfriend said, was one fit bird, “bird” being British slang for “young woman.”
Fitbird Fitness has male clients and children, but it’s mostly women who meet three times a week to train for triathlons with Shawhan. They call themselves “fitbirds.”
The workouts consist of swimming and “brick” workouts where Shawhan’s athletes practice cycling and running on the course they’ll compete on.
A “brick” workout, Shawhan said, is a “workout of two or more disciplines back to back, practicing transitions.? Workouts stacked one on top of the other like bricks.”
“I didn’t do anything until I was 51,” said 55-year-old Kathy Kliebert, who competes with her daughter, Megan, 27.
“We’ve run at least 20 triathlons,” Megan Kliebert said.
The Klieberts’ triathlons vary from 12 to 25 miles cycling, two to 6.2 miles running and 350 meters to one mile swimming.
“I saw a sign at Fresh Salads and Wraps downtown that said, ‘Couch Potato to Triathlete in 8 Weeks,’” Kathy Kliebert said. The triathlon was a Rocketchix event.
Rocketchix, the nonprofit creation of long-distance swimmer and restaurant owner Pat Fellows and Susan Hayden, an engineer who’s competed in Ironman contests, has been the competition entry point for hundreds of Baton Rouge women and children. Children compete in Rocketkidz.
“Proceeds go to the Rocketkidz Foundation, which is hosted by Baton Rouge Area Foundation,” Hayden said.
Before Kliebert could train for a triathlon, she had to learn to swim.
“I took swimming lessons at the ‘Y’,” she said. “I backstroked the whole race.”
Two years later, after becoming a “fitbird,” Kliebert was swimming freestyle in triathlons.
Kristy Mayes, 45, daughter Kelsey, 13, and son Mason, 11, train with Fitbird.
“I saw my mom doing it, and it looked like fun,” said Mason Mayes, whose least favorite event is swimming.
Shawhan hears that a lot.
“They’re not exposed to swimming at an early age,” she said, “or it’s how they were exposed to it. Most people start from scratch in swimming. It wipes out a lot of people.”
“I was in the gym and ran into a friend who was doing Rocketchix,” Mayes said. “She had a plan, and she was focused. I thought, ‘If she can do Rocketchix, I can.’”
“We’ve all said that,” said Kristin Menson, 34.
Rocketchix is 350 meters swimming, 12 miles cycling and a 2-mile run.
Architect Ellen Jenkins, 62, ran her first half-marathon and first half-Ironman this year. The longer event is 1.2 miles swimming, 56 miles cycling and a half-marathon (13.1 miles).
A swimmer before joining Fitbird, Jenkins has been training with Shawhan for three years.
“The best part is training with the other women in the group,” Jenkins said. “It’s the team spirit and the camaraderie that is my motivation.”
“Fitbird is a team,” Menson said. “That’s the really inspiring part.” Menson trains with doctors, lawyers, architects, students, mothers, CEOs. “When we put on our swim caps, it’s a level playing field.”
“I played volleyball in high school,” said Jane Pearson, 41. “I couldn’t swim more than a lap before I got with Anne. And it was ugly. Now, I can swim two miles in open water.”
Liz Harris, 46, saw the “Couch Potato” sign at Woman’s Fitness Center four years ago and began training for a Rocketchix triathlon.
“I took swimming with Nan Fontenot and Mandy Leach at Crawfish Aquatics to learn a proper freestyle stroke,” Harris said.
With children in high school and college, “I was a middle-aged mom,” Harris said. “I could see myself as something new and stronger.”
Competition inspires Harris, like the time she was passed by an 80-year-old nun from Spokane, Wash., in a half-Ironman in New Orleans.
Harris’ 19-year-old daughter, Madeline, trains with Fitbird.
“I was a serious soccer player in high school,” said Madeline Harris. “After five knee surgeries, this is my way of coming back.”
“My mom said, ‘You don’t have to do well. Just finish,’ said Kelsey Mayes. “I can play sports, but I’m not the best. It made me feel good to finish.”
There is a saying among triathletes.
“You know what they call the last person to cross the finish line?” began Liz Harris.
“A triathlete,” said Madeline Harris.