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Dynamic Chiropractic – April 26, 1991, Vol. 09, Issue 09

Sharon Svensson: World-Class Triathlete

By Editorial Staff
First-quarter student, Sharon Svensson (nee Given) of Palmer College of Chiropractic-West (PCCW)

Sharon Svensson (nee Given), like many young women who attended high school in the mid-1960s, never participated in after-school organized sports.

Back then (the dark ages) most high schools simply did not offer extracurricular sports for women. The states did mandate physical education classes, but it was only in those classes that girls had the opportunity to compete and learn athletic skills. So while the boys competed in football, basketball, baseball etc., the girls -- well, they stood around and watched, or became cheerleaders.

In 1975, Sharon, then a 27-year-old flight attendant for Pan American World Airlines, decided to start jogging to keep herself in shape. The jogging craze was well underway and it became a common sight to see people running for exercise. Sharon began by running around the block of her Palo Alto home; she soon realized that jogging wasn't as easy as she's imagined, that she quickly became winded and fatigued.

With persistence, Sharon's stamina soon improved, as did her confidence. Runs around the block led her to envision a more challenging test of her new found athleticism. Like athletes everywhere, Sharon soon felt the need to compete against others in her chosen sport; she knew that a competitive race would boost her performance and test her progress. Sharon's first formal competition came in 1977 when she ran in the Bay to Breakers Race, an annual race held in San Francisco over a demanding 7.8 mile course.

For a distance runner the ultimate competitive challenge is a marathon, a sort of self-imposed, hellish endeavor spread out over 26.2 miles. Sharon's initiation into this domain was at the Boston Marathon, the foremost event of its kind in the U.S. Sharon opted next to test herself in an even more demanding sport -- a triathlon, a sport that gives new meaning to the word masochism. It's a physically exhausting test of swimming, bike racing, and running. Sharon also persued more esoteric competitions like the devilish Empire State Building Race where contestants run up 86 flights of stairs, a race perhaps inspired by the exploits of the late King Kong.

To date, Sharon has competed in more than 80 events, including 17 marathons and 5 triathlons. She placed first in her age group in three triathlons: Ironman Triathlon World Championship, Hawaii in 1986, 1987; and the Windward Triathlon in 1990. Sharon has recorded three victories in the New York biathlon, and five age group titles in the U.S. Triathlon Series.

In 1988 Sharon made the decision to pursue a career in chiropractic at Palmer West. "I have always been fascinated by the potential of the human body. I feel that chiropractic, with its emphasis on preventative health care is the natural next step for me to learn as much as I can to help others reach their potential," explained Sharon.

Although a graduate of San Jose State University in 1972, Sharon enrolled at Foothill Junior College in Los Altos, California in 1988 to fulfill her PCCW prerequisites. While at Foothill, Sharon had the distinction of attending her 20-year high school class reunion and competing as a member of the track team, winning the Junior College State Championships in the 5,000 meters.

Sharon also earned a California State Certification in 1989 from the Esalen Institute as a massage therapist, including sports and trigger point message.

Now, at age 40, Sharon has set two goals: to become a doctor of chiropractic and continue to compete as a runner and triathlete in the "Master's" division (ages 40-49). During the coming year Sharon will balance a busy study and training schedule to represent Palmer West and promote chiropractic while participating in a variety of races. Thus far, Sharon has won her age group in each of the three events she has entered this year: Willy's Five-Miler in Los Altos, California; The Great Race (3.8 miles) in Los Gatos, California; and the Empire State Building Run-up.

"I'm grateful for all the opportunities and experiences I've enjoyed as a competitive athlete," said Sharon, whose most memorable moment in athletics occurred on her 35th birthday, when she traveled to Minnesota to compete in her first triathlon. A group of carolers greeted Sharon with a chorus of "Happy Birthday" as she crossed the finish line, arms raised in personal victory. Joining the serenade, much to Sharon's surprise, was her mother, who had flown in from California to witness her daughter's achievement.

Sharon's first triathlon launched a competitive career which subsequently found her riding a bike through the rubber plantations of Liberia; early-morning runs through the bustling streets of Tokyo, and jogging through the snow-covered streets of Oslo, the hot, desolate sands of Saudi Arabia, and along the magnificent Great Wall of China.

"But as I grow, I realize my goals are changing. I find myself wanting to do something more meaningful, fulfilling, and sustaining," says Sharon who, along with her husband, world-class triathlete Tony Svensson, co-authored Training Manual for Triathletes.

Sharon discovered her athletic potential at an age when most athletes are content with yesterday's memories, rather than achieving new athletic goals. Sharon says she discovered the power of combining the mind and body.

"It was like I met someone inside myself, someone who had been there all my life but whom I had never met before. It was a powerful experience."

"My success in athletics has changed me from a very shy and skinny little girl with thick glasses to someone who's confident, in love with life, and wants to experience it all," Sharon said. "I've been lucky. I've discovered wonderful feelings of accomplishment, feelings surpassed only by the knowledge that it is actually only the beginning of a lifetime's worth of experience."

Sharon Svensson is a model for those who have become complacent, for those who have let their age deter them from following through on life-long dreams and desires.

Sharon states: "I have realized that it is never too late, that we are masters of our own destiny, and we can, in fact, do whatever we want."

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