There aren’t many athletes who can get back on the bike one month after breaking a collarbone. Even fewer could make it to the starting line of a world championship within that timeframe. Mary Beth Ellis crashed barely a month before the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona, and after a hard-fought recovery she made it to Kona. Although forced to withdraw before reaching the finish line, her effort will be remembered as one of the most powerful examples of an elites athlete’s strength and determination.
But the eight-time Ironman champion is no stranger to adversary. After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2005 and learning she would never run marathons competitively, she went against doctor’s orders and traded in her running career for triathlon. She quickly built a reputation for success at short distance races, including wins as part of the US National team in draft-legal racing and two second-place finishes at Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
But that was just warm up for what was to come.
In 2006 she left her full-time job as a marketing director to pursue triathlon professionally. In 2011, MB joined Team TBB under the guidance of coach Brett Sutton who immediately recognized her talent for long-distance triathlon. Shortly after, she stormed her way into Ironman with a debut of just over eight hours and forty-three minutes at Ironman Austria, smashing the rookie record, the American record and the course record that day.
Since then, MB has quickly pushed her way to the front of the sport, winning four of her first five Ironman starts and breaking three course records, including the infamous 20-year-old high water mark at Ironman Canada. In so doing, she has set a new standard for US Ironman women, and expanded her reputation for battling through adverse conditions, personal setback and increasingly fast competition to win.
Yet, as tough as she is on the course, she is well known for her light hearted, girl-next-door personality off the course. "I try not to take myself too seriously. I'm just grateful to have a chance to do what I love for a living because it seemed like it wasn’t even a possibility just a few years ago," she said. "The sport inspires so many people. I have seen so many amazing stories of people overcoming everything – cancer, obesity, anxiety – with the help of triathlon. My biggest wish it that what I do can, in some small way, add to that legacy and inspire other women like me to try the sport." She even used her 2013 crash experience for a good purpose: to raise money for the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, the nation’s largest and oldest non-profit for sports injury research.
Outside of the injury, 2013 was a stellar year that saw Mary Beth win Ironman 70.3 Florida, defend her title at the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon, and win both Ironman France and Ironman Mont Tremblant. The 2014 season has also been strong, with a close second to fellow Cervélo P5 rider Caroline Steffen at the Asia Pacific Championships, a strong 5th at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and a top ten in the 5150 US Championship.
Perhaps most important is Mary Beth’s return to her home of Colorado for her main training base for 2014. The time with her family – and most importantly, her puppy – and proximity to coach Siri Lindley has made the season a memorable one.