Inspiring Human - Charmayne Johnstone

Charmayne with her pet sheep Holly

Charmayne tells us that by leading an active life, regardless of age, she’s setting an example to her family, especially her 10 (almost 11) grandchildren and friends.

But Charmayne - as an accomplished swimmer, triathlete and ironman you’re not only setting an example but you’re an absolute inspiration to us all.

Born in Auckland, 1952. Charmayne, along with her 2 younger brothers, had a happy childhood. Doing all the normal things that children did in those days - playing outside until dark, going on long bike rides and climbing trees. She was taught to swim at 5 years old and loved the water.

When she was 13 and on a family camping holiday on the Coromandel Peninsula, a swim coach (Lincoln Hurring who was also camping with his family) approached her parents and asked if Charmayne could join his swim squad.

And on her return home to Auckland, her swimming career began. Charmayne swam competitively from age 13 until after she was married and expecting her first child at 24 years old. She represented Auckland and New Zealand in swimming - mostly freestyle and backstroke.

Charmayne and husband Gary have 5 children. They’re all grown up now and have children of their own.

We asked Charmayne what pushed her to start her triathlon journey. Her response was, her daughter. Triathlon had not been invented when she was a child. She was 50 years old when a woman’s triathlon series called the Special K Triathlon, began. Her daughter entered with some of her friends and encouraged her to do it, too. She hadn’t owned a bike in years and had to buy one. Turns out she loved the triathlon experience. She went on to do several at the different venues every year. She competed in over 50 triathlons altogether before they stopped around 10 years later.

Charmayne's lovely grandchildren

After the first season she realised she needed a proper road bike. Her hybrid wasn’t fast enough. She joined the Waitakere Triathlon and Multisport club and heard people talking about Ironman. For the next few years she would drive to Taupo every March to watch. She’d sleep in her car down near the start line by the lake on the Friday, watch the race, then drive home on Sunday morning. Watching the athletes of all ages, shapes and sizes made her realise that there was no reason why she couldn’t be an ironman too. It soon became a bucket list thing.

2010 was the year Charmayne decided to start training for Ironman 2011. She didn’t get a coach but found training programmes online and trained pretty much solo. She arrived in Taupo feeling confident. Friday dawned with heavy rain that persisted until Sunday. The race started on Saturday. The swim went well, and she was onto the bike. The torrential rain made the roads like rivers and riding was hard. Returning from the first lap her bike started to make a weird squeaky noise. She stopped but couldn’t work out what was wrong. A few kms later she stopped again, this time joined by the support vehicle. They discovered that both front and rear brakes were jammed on and couldn’t be released. However, Charmayne continued on. But it was getting cold and she did the math in her head and realised she wasn’t going to make the cut-off time. So she made the tough decision to pull the pin.

Disappointed but determined, she made the decision to prepare for Ironman 2012. This time with the support of a coach. Fast forward to Ironman week 2012. On Thursday the weather forecasters were predicting bad weather for race day. She registered and racked her bike on the Friday.  But the weather was doubtful and event organisers called a meeting that night. At the meeting of around 1500 athletes, plus family, you could’ve heard a pin drop. They announced that a weather-bomb was due to hit Taupo about the time the race was due to start in the morning. Ironman 2012 was off.

2 Ironman attempts thwarted but Charmayne is not one to give up. Returning home she was put in contact with another coach who was a member of her tri club. She agreed to coach Charmayne’s 3rd attempt. She arrived in Taupo in March 2013 determined to knock it off. This time the weather forecast was great and she was ready. On the Saturday morning she recalls being calm and collected. She slept well and was pumped. As she exited the swim she realised she’d broken the swim record in her age-group (60-64 years we might add.) Next was the ride. It was perfect and she was off the bike much earlier than expected. It was at this point that Charmayne realised as long as she kept putting one foot in front of the other, she should finish easily within the 17-hour limit.

Not a runner, Charmayne knew she had to pace herself. She’d planned to try and jog the flats and downhills and walk the uphills and aid stations. But once she was off the bike she just took off, before settling into the pattern she’d planned. Her original goal was to, simply, finish under the 17-hours. Until, around the 30km mark, her coach found her and said the goal was now to be under 16-hours. She did the calculations and knew what she had to do.

Her final finish time? 15hrs 54mins 47secs.

Completing the 2013 Ironman (her 3rd attempt)

Over the next few years Charmayne competed in the Auckland half Ironman and other smaller triathlons. But a re-tear in her meniscus needed surgery. It was successful but both knees continued to cause her pain. It could have been game-over. But not for Charmayne. Instead she focused on swimming. She began competing in Masters swimming beginning with the World Champs in Auckland - where she won bronze in the open water swim and placed in the Top 10 for the world in several other events. And just before Covid, Charmayne and 3 other women from her Masters Swimming Club broke 2 New Zealand Long Course relay records by over 20 seconds. Both records had stood for over 20 years.

When Charmayne isn’t swimming and staying active she likes to spend her time relief teaching at two local schools. And when she’s not working she’s enjoying watching her grandchildren’s sporting events. Funnily enough, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Her grandchildren, ranging from 22 months - 16 years are gifted sports people with several already in representative teams across netball, rugby, hockey, cricket, athletics, swimming, water polo, gymnastics, trampolining and tumbling.

But life hasn’t been without its challenges. Charmayne shares that her biggest challenge was accepting a diabetes diagnosis. She’d been hypothyroid since the early 90’s. Hypothyroidism is hereditary in her family. It was at one of her visits to the Dr for medication repeats that her Dr casually said, “I think it’s time we put you on medication for your diabetes.” She was horrified and upset. She had no idea. When she asked her Dr how long she’d had diabetes for she said for perhaps around 10 years.

As you’ll have figured by now, Charmayne isn’t one without a plan. She committed to the Low Carb Healthy Fat (LCHF) way of life and put her diabetes into remission. She was immediately taken off her diabetes meds and other meds she’d been on since the mid-90’s for blood pressure and cholesterol. Within 6 months she’d totally reversed her diabetes. Over the last year she’s lost 28kgs and her blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose are all normal.

In terms of her future? Charmayne has goals for more Masters Swimming. It’s the one activity she can do these days without pain in her knees. Next year she enters the 70-74 year age group. And with that beautiful determination she says she intends on doing this for as long as she can.

When we asked Charmayne what message she’d put on a billboard, she came up with a few - all in a similar vein.

Life is too short.... / It’s never too late / Age is only a number / Don’t just dream it, achieve it.

And her parting words of wisdom?

If you’ve been inspired by the way I live, I’m happy to talk with you. Whether it’s about achieving a sporting bucket list dream or overcoming your own health issue (specifically Type 2 Diabetes) please get in touch with her via Facebook

Out training for her open water swimming in Maraetai

Out training for her open water swimming in Maraetai

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