RACE FOR HER PACE Pacemaker doesn't keep Alcorta from finishing triathlon

When Sandy Alcorta arrives for the appointment with her cardiologist Nov. 9, she will have a medal in hand.

A medal for sixth place. A medal as testimony that a 38-year-old woman with a pacemaker can complete a triathlon.


That's what Alcorta did last Saturday in Clermont, Fla., site of the Great Floridian Triathlon. Relentlessly, she plowed through three grueling events -- 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run -- in 17 hours and 12 minutes, 18 minutes under the allowed time of 17:30.

"I think I was first in the pacemaker category," Alcorta said. "Matter of fact, I've never heard of another one who has tried it."


A nurse who lives in Severna Park, Alcorta has had a pacemaker since 1980. This is her third, because, she said breezily, "I seem to wear out the batteries."

She has long been intrigued by triathlons, dating to the early 1980s.

She was working as a nurse, supporting her husband, Richard, who was in medical school, and didn't have enough time to train for a triathlon. Three years ago, when Richard began to practice medicine, Alcorta announced, "Now it's my turn."

She had the full support and approval of her cardiologist, Dr. Ken Baughman, head of the cardiology unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Indeed, the first year she attempted the 4.4-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim, in 1991, Baughman, who had completed the swim before, tried, too. "He told me, 'Do what you can do,' " Alcorta said. "He's pretty amazed at how far I've gone. I'm not that fast, but I can go for a long, long time."

She joined the Severna Park YMCA Masters team to improve her swimming technique. "That was what I was most afraid of, the swimming," she said.

Then she began entering small triathlons, such as a half-mile swim, 14-mile bike ride and 3 1/2 -mile run. Fran Weston, a 53-year-old Pasadena resident who was first in the women's Masters division in last Saturday's triathlon, helped Alcorta with her bike training. Last year Alcorta completed a longer triathlon -- one-mile swim, 26-mile bike ride, 6.2-mile run -- her longest until last Saturday.

This past April Alcorta helped Severna Park win its second straight YMCA Masters national swimming championship.

In June, in her third attempt, she completed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim for the first time.


All along, "She trained smart and competed smart," said her husband. "We went to a camp run by Dave Scott, who has done BTC the Hawaii Ironman about six times. It was a full week of seminars and training."

Because she is on blood-thinners, Alcorta never rides a bike too aggressively. She is prone to internal hemorrhaging, and if she fell and hit her head, "it could be catastrophic," Richard said.

"Sure, I'm apprehensive," he added. "But for Sandy this is a life's challenge. She looks forward to these challenges to keep herself motivated."

The Great Floridian attracted 300 competitors, 240 of whom finished.

Alcorta was sixth out of seven women in the 35-39 age group.

"The bike course was incredibly windy and the hills were like you'd never imagine in Florida," she said. "Guys who had competed in the Hawaii Ironman said this triathlon was more challenging. My goal was just to finish and not wind up in the medical tent."


She did, and she didn't. For an encore, she is contemplating a marathon in Los Angeles in March.