Forever Young: Pan Am Champ Libby Harrow

Apr. 18, 2017

There is a myth in our culture that sports are for the young. After a certain age, it’s time to hang up our running shoes, put away the bike, and take our place on the sidelines. If we are lucky, maybe we can coach.  

Libby Harrow isn’t buying it.

Active all of her life, Harrow majored in physical education and was an Alpine skier in college before Title IX was enacted to eliminate gender discrimination in educational programs. At University of Colorado, her freshman year, “The men’s ski team had races all season, and the women’s team just had one,” said Harrow.

Not satisfied with just one race a year, Harrow transferred to Plymouth State College in New Hampshire where she could compete in more events. "Title IX has made a big difference," said Harrow. "I’m thrilled to see so many women participating with and against the men in athletics now. It’s not just about fitness – it’s also a political statement.”

After college, Harrow continued to ski and successfully competed in triathlons for 17 years on the roads. “It wasn’t one thing in particular that brought me to XTERRA,” she said. “I wanted something with more skill, for one. And I’ll never forget the year I went to the USA Triathlon National Championship in Missouri. It was in town with a lot of asphalt, and I thought, ‘I traveled all the way here for this?’"

Since Harrow was living in Florida at the time, she entered the XTERRA Oleta in Miami. “I was hooked,” Harrow said. “The races are in such beautiful places. I never went back to racing on the roads.” 

Harrow’s first year, in 2001, she qualified for the XTERRA World Championship and won her 50-54 age group. Since then, she’s been an eight-time regional champ and a three-time world champ.

When asked the secret to such consistent and continuous fitness and success in her races, she said, “Actually I just had my hip replaced last Monday. And I feel unbelievable. It’s miraculous.” Her surgery was at 10:45 in the morning and she was walking around by 3:00 that afternoon.

Harrow went to The Steadman Philippon Research Institute, world-renowned for its orthopedists and innovative research. And this isn’t the first time she’s had this kind of procedure.

She’s had the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) repaired on her left knee. She’s had the lateral meniscus removed on her left knee and had an allograph procedure (ACL transplant) on her right knee. Last but not least was bunion surgery on her foot.

“I guess my secret is that I’m not willing to give up,” says Harrow.  “I enjoy racing too much. I get to be outside doing all the things I love. And I get to do them longer now that I’m slower. I don’t know why all these people are rushing to the finish line. You can’t rush these things. You’ve got to enjoy it.” 

At the 2016 XTERRA Pan American Championship, Harrow knew she won her age group as soon as the gun went off. “I was the only one in my age group,” she admitted. But knowing she already had victory in the bag didn’t stop her from giving her all.

“The course is extremely hard,” says Harrow. “That climb on the bike is killer. But, I can’t imagine any other place I would have rather been. The weather was beautiful and the other athletes are always wonderful companions for the journey.” 

Despite having surgery less than a week ago, Harrow is already planning her return to the Pan Am Championship this fall. 

“XTERRA is family,” she said. “You go to the races and see people you’ve known for years. I love the energy in the air, as people plan their strategies and ride the course. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere. I’m definitely hoping to be at XTERRA Beaver Creek. And I’d really like to be at XTERRA Lory, but I’m not sure if the doctors will let me. I think I’m going to be even faster this year. Last year, my hip was bothering me so much it slowed me down.”

It’s hard to imagine Harrow slowing down. She is already hiking as much as her doctor will allow, and in the three weeks before she will be cleared to hop on her bike trainer, she is going to repaint some trim on her house. She has just finished redoing her bathroom, where she laid all the new tiles herself.

Still, Harrow is practically jonesing to hit the trails again near her home - Harrow lives just a few miles from the monoliths and red rock canyons of National Monument, Colorado.

“I can’t wait to get back on my mountain bike,” she said. “I love being outside. It’s my life. It’s what I do.”

Trail Run Series