Bev Watson’s life, as she describes it, has always been driven by ‘freedom and adventure.’ It’s a life worthy of some amazing accolades, including a skydiving world championship in 1987 and an IRONMAN title in 2013.
“I was always active,” notes the 60-something Watson, a native of Montreal who lives in Priddis, AB. “I really wanted to be a ballerina. Now that I look back on it, I’m thankful as ballet gave me a perfect background for almost any sport because you use strength, balance, rhythm, everything except upper body strength.”
Ironically, she gave it up in her pre-teens because her parents were against her going to ballet school in Toronto as it was just too far.
But it is Watson’s inner fortitude that is propelling her today. Diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in 2014 and having undergone two surgeries to remove a brain tumour, she now uses a walker to get around. But that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to do what she has always done: compete to win.
She works out five days a week at the Remington YMCA in Calgary, three in the pool, twice in spin class and is now adding more weights to her routine. Her bike is a heavy tricycle and, according to her caregiver, she’s ‘very, very fast.’
Last year, Watson took part in the sprint portion of the Wasa Lake triathlon. She’s eyeing another competition this summer, but hasn’t signed up just yet.
Her determination is remarkable, given the severity of her diagnosis.
At one early and memorable meeting with nurses and doctors, there was also a ‘neatly dressed man’ who began speaking to her.
“It dawned on me, he was talking about the hereafter,” she said. “so I looked up at him and said ‘excuse me, but I don’t need you yet.’ I just dismissed him, poor guy. Doctor said ‘you will die from this cancer, we cannot fix it. You’ll probably get six to nine months.’ So I said ‘Hmm, no thank you.’”
The second surgery she underwent was more aggressive and took away a good portion of her hearing, sight, coordination and balance, which put her into a wheelchair for a couple of years.
“I had a bad turn … so they called my sister in Toronto and said, ‘get out here, she’s got six weeks max,’” the perennially upbeat Watson, an accountant and certified pilot, related. “But they didn’t tell me, so I didn’t stay to the schedule! So I’m still here.”
Her indomitable spirit has always shone. She started skydiving while at Queen’s University.
“After six months of putting it off [after training], I said ‘I’m not going to quit something because I’m afraid of it,’” she explained. “I made a jump and I loved it!”
Her first skydiving worlds were in Bulgaria in 1980 and she went on to win the crown seven years later. After that, having tried her hand at para-skiing and water polo, she got hooked on adventure racing and even climbing – in 2006 she bested Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in the Americas at 22,837 feet.
Focusing her copious amount of energy on running, Watson won her first ever Five Peaks event in 1980, just after she relocated to Calgary. She caught the eye of a triathlon coach and her training ultimately led to the 2013 IRONMAN championship in Hawaii, by a stunning 20 minute margin in the women’s 60-64 age category.
Even the lowest of lows, a terminal cancer diagnosis, hasn’t handcuffed this most unique individual.
“What am I going to do, sit there?” Watson asked, rhetorically. “My fitness has been credited for why I’m still alive. Persistence,” she continued. “I’m trying to put my life back together as best as I can. If I try hard and long enough, I’ll get there. The old Winston Churchill [said]… never, never, NEVER give up.”
Lead image by Shaun Robinson