As a four-time world triathlon champion, a medical doctor and a breast cancer survivor, Margie Ritchie has often been put on a pedestal, admired for her achievements and considered an inspiration to others.
“From the time you’ve left (medical) school you’re this doctor, you’re put on this pedestal,” the 56-year-old New Zealand native says. “I think I’m a modest person, I found that uncomfortable to be looked up to when you’re really no different from anyone else. Yet for no reason people put you up there.”
She was not comfortable being there as a doctor and she’s not comfortable being there now as an age-group triathlon champion after beating cancer.
“I’m just a regular person who tries very hard and puts her focus on something and was lucky to be successful at it,” she says. “I feel lucky. I’m sure there are people out there who could beat me but they just don’t have the chance to do this, either from (a lack of) time or money or lack of opportunity.”
Living in Edmonton with her husband Bruce, Ritchie took up triathlon in 2003 but didn’t get serious about it until after she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later. While that prompted her to reassess her life, she is quick to point out the cancer that saw her undergo three surgeries and lose one breast, is definitely not what people should use to define her.
“People keep bringing it up, but it’s not really my story,” she says. “It’s an interesting story and I think it changed my direction in my life to actually take on triathlon in a serious way because I gave up the medicine part of things at that point.”
She retired as a microbiologist because she no longer had the passion for it and found there wasn’t the time to be a good doctor and a good mother of three children.
She rarely thinks about the cancer now and wasn’t devastated when she was diagnosed because it was caught at an early stage and she knew surgery could cure it.
But cancer made her realize there were things she wanted to do in life and she pursued her passions in art, music, dance and sport. And although she took up triathlon late in life, she was very good at it.
“I think it’s just more the determination and my passion. I like sports and I found something I was really good at.,” she says. “A lot of people tell me, ‘You’re an inspiration.’ But what do I know, I just do what I like to do. They see that someone else can do it with hard work.”
That and good genes, she adds.
Ritchie won the ITU world championship in 2009, 2010 and 2011 in the 50-54 age group and last summer she won it in the 55-59 age group, competing in Edmonton in front of family and friends.