As steady as the air she breathed, Lynn Asbury ran. For 29 years, she pounded the pavement, then the dirt, pushing herself to absolute exhaustion at the Pikes Peak Marathon, the 50K Palo Duro Trail Run, and others. She even ran with the 3-pound Olympic torch en route to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Why did she do it? “Because I want to see what I am capable of,” she says.
But her life as a runner came to an abrupt end in 2009, after an overuse injury resulted in surgery. Suddenly the 66-year-old retiree found herself on the sidelines of her once adventure-filled life, and she worried she'd never again have the strength to compete.
Then she met someone who changed her life—a woman nearly half her age who helped get Asbury back into the game. Spartan SGX coach Izabela Chrobak, 35, turned out to be an intense and understanding friend, and together, the two women broke the boundaries of age.
Asbury grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attended the University of Kentucky, and moved to Albuquerque in 1978 for a job as a medical dosimetrist, calculating dosages for radiation therapy. She picked up running on a local bike path and eventually fell in with a trail running cohort. On a trip to Ouray, Colorado, on her 40th birthday, Asbury became a dirt convert at the Imogene Pass Run.
Over the decades, she amassed tens of thousands of miles and wore the rubber off countless trainers. Then in 2009, a torn medial meniscus and ruined ACL forced her to slow down. She did all of the physical therapy she was assigned and attempted to run again a year after the surgery, but alas, she couldn’t. Her legs weren’t strong enough to compensate for the bad knee, and to run appeared impossible.
Her only hope at running was to focus on building muscle in her legs, so that was her mission when she walked into Defined Fitness in 2015. After a few weeks of training, she met and started working with Izabela Chrobak, a bodybuilder, molecular biology Ph.D., and Spartan SGX coach. The two hit it off quickly. “New Mexico is a state of ‘mañana,’ meaning tomorrow,” Chrobak says. “People here take a lazy life, but when you see somebody coming to every workout and saying ‘Okay, I did my homework, I really want to work on this because I have a goal,’ it’s eye-opening.”
Chrobak respected Asbury’s confident intensity, but inside, the older woman harbored some trepidation about entering previously unexplored fitness territory. “Chrobak had me doing bodyweight exercises like burpees, which I’d never done in my life,” Asbury says. “I was 65 and she was 30-something, and I just thought, ‘Holy cow, I don’t think she’s got a clue how old I am! I can’t be jumping around like this!”
But Chrobak kept pushing, and Asbury grew stronger. The transformation was impressive, so Chrobak invited Lynn to join her for the Breckenridge Sprint in August. “I looked at the pictures and thought she was crazy,“ says Asbury. But after considering the alternative—saying no, turning down an opportunity to thrive like she had in the past—Asbury accepted the challenge. With Chrobak’s help, she began taking on even more explosive exercises that would prepare her for bear crawls, crab walks, tire flipping, and everything else that the pair referred to as “animal moves.”
Chrobak had injured her own knee during the training, and increasingly looked to Asbury for perspective. If Lynn could pull through her injuries—and at her age—then so could Chrobak.
By August, Asbury was running again and Chrobak was healed. The pair joined the rest of the Spartan athletes Chrobak had trained and drove to Breckenridge for the sprint. In the thin Rocky Mountain air, Asbury and Chrobak tag-teamed the obstacles. Asbury climbed up high, and Chrobak helped her down.
“It was a real rush with all this adrenaline running through your body,” says Asbury. “You realize you just accomplished something that six, seven months ago you never even conceived of doing. You see it on all people’s faces! I don’t see anyone jumping across the fire that’s not happy.”
And jump across the fire they did, together, less than three hours after the start. After the race Asbury confessed that of all the miles she'd put in over the years, those five were the best in her life. And together, she and Chrobak helped each other break the boundaries of age.
“Before I met [Chrobak], I felt like I was getting older, losing the strength I had,” says Asbury. “But she had this belief that I could get stronger. All of the sudden I became energized.” Her strength today is better than it was 20 years ago, she says. “You don’t have to settle for being in your mid-60s and thinking you’re getting older. You can be in your mid-60s and settle for getting stronger.”
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