IRONDames: Taking Comfort in the Uncomfortable

Article Written by Denise Davy


It was 53-year old Marla Ashmore’s biggest challenge ever – cycling more than 1,000 kilometers from Lake Louise, Alberta to Whistler, British Columbia.  The Burlington resident was hardly new to cycling: she’s a member of IRONDames, a Burlington group of around 30 women who compete in gruelling marathons and triathlons.


Still, this eight-day trek through the Rockies and Coast Mountains would prove to be her toughest challenge yet, with inclines so steep it was like cycling up Everest.  “I remember crying on the first day and saying, ‘I can’t do this.’  It was raining and it was so cold it was turning to snow,” says Ashmore.  After the end of the first day, Ashmore was so exhausted she didn’t have the energy to undress.  Instead, she just climbed into the bathtub with her running outfit on.  Lying in the tub sipping hot chocolate, she wondered how she would get through the next day.


True to the spirit of IRONDames members, she and the six others not only finished, they raised a whopping $30,000 in pledges.  “It was amazing but I don’t ever want to do something like that again,” admits Ashmore, laughing.  “It was all part of how we push ourselves.  As I always say, ‘pick something that makes you uncomfortable and do it’.”


That indomitable spirit is what defines IRONDames, founded five years ago by Kim Pace, who was battling cancer and wanted to do something that would make a lasting difference.  She pulled together other women who were also into fitness and together set a goal to raise $200,000 to build an exercise room at Wellspring, Halton-Peel’s Cancer Exercise facility in Oakville.


They’ve also raised money through their annual “Lace up for Love” Mother’s day walk/run, individual events like the Rockies Trek, and corporate sponsors, including Neworld Cycle in Burlington.  Thanks to the outpouring of support, the group reached their goal last month.  Sadly, Kim died in July 2011 before seeing the project to fruition, but her spirit lives on at the facility where a plaque was erected in her honour.  IRONDames’ members remain inspired by her courage.  “Kim kept training when she had cancer,” says Andrea Buzza, 47, from Burlington.  “We all figured that if she had cancer and could do it, then we could, too.”


IRONDames’ members range in age from their mid-forties to almost 70.  They’re a diverse group of retirees, professional women and, like Ashmore, stay at home moms.  A few have been personally touched by cancer through close friends or family who have battled the disease.  By sharing the challenges of training, they’ve become close friends.


The group was a big help to Buzza when her mother lost her battle to cancer.  She also found support through the years that she’s cared for her father, who has Alzheimer’s.  “Being involved with this group of women really kept me going,” says Buzza, whose most recent challenge was climbing the Grand Teton, a 13,770-foot mountain in Wyoming.  Then there’s 50-year old Margaret Dorio, mother of four and president of the Triathlon Club of Burlington, who has completed more than 45 triathlons and races.  She joined the group to do her first Iron Man triathlon but says it was Pace’s “positive attitude” that kept her coming back.  “Training with her, I saw her determination to do something way outside her comfort zone,” says Dorio.  “I often think back to how hard she trained and all the while with such a positive attitude and smile.  She really was the true inspiration behind many, many women in the group, including myself.”




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