Health Heroes: Monique Rico, Triathlon Extraordinaire

After winning a division in the Nation’s Triathlon earlier this month, this emergency room worker shows no signs of slowing down. She runs three or four triathlons a year, even once competing in a 5K while she was pregnant.

Left: Monique Rico ran a 5K while eight months pregnant. Right: Her love of triathlons is contagious—one of her daughters just completed her first. Photographs courtesy of Monique Rico

Winning the First Responders Challenge at the Nation’s Triathlon on September 11 was an honor for Monique Rico—though perhaps not quite up there with her sub-12-hour Ironman or winning her age group in a 5K while she was eight months pregnant.

“Don’t let the pregnant lady beat you!” Rico’s husband Andres called to her competitors as she passed them down the stretch. “The funniest thing,” he says, “was the look on their faces when she ran by them.”

Rico has never been one for slowing down. She pulls a 12-hour shift at the George Washington University emergency room every other week and races three or four triathlons on top of the ten road races she does per year.

“I always say I’m going to slow my racing next year,” 43-year-old Rico says, “but I just haven’t done it. I feel like I’m faster at my age than I was when I was 21.”

Rico is fast for any age. Her regular 5:30 AM five-mile run is easily finished in 40 minutes. “I consider it like brushing my teeth,” she says.

It seems as if Rico simply never stops running. She “ran through [her] pregnancies,” as she puts it, running with the first kid in a stroller while pregnant with the next, pushing the first two while carrying the third, and finally pushing all three in a stroller the width of the sidewalk on her morning runs. “Turning corners was hard,” she says.

Her kids and husband run, too. In Rico’s Chantilly home after her morning run, four-year-old Carson and five-year-old Addison race each other around the first floor while seven-year-old Cameron counts laps.

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Cameron spent the first two years of her life in and out of the hospital and her first five years in physical therapy due to being born with a cleft palate and complications from the resulting surgeries. She didn’t start walking until age two and a half, while most babies start walking around one. This past year, at age seven, she crossed the finish line of her first triathlon. “She was smiling the whole time,” Rico says. “I was crying.” The 1.8-mile bike race was her favorite, Cameron says, “because it was easy.”

Rico seems to inspire those around her to run triathlons. “Because of her, I’m off the couch,” says her friend Dottie Swanson. The 38 year old was anything but a runner when Rico first convinced her to do a 5K in 2006. Then Rico lent her a bike and taught her to swim. Swanson competed in seven triathlons in the past three years.

“When she wanted me to sign up for the first triathlon I was like, ‘No way, are you kidding?’ She said, ‘You’re stronger than you think you are.’ She’s just so positive,” Swanson says. After finishing the Nation’s Triathlon earlier this month, Rico ran back to finish the last mile of the race with Swanson, encouraging her all the way. “It’s very motivating,” Swanson says. “It keeps you from thinking about walking.”

By Swanson’s estimate, Rico has directly or indirectly inspired ten people in the neighborhood to take up long-distance running. She also hosts running clinics for kids in the neighborhood and at the local elementary school. “When you see people running who you didn’t think would do it, it’s very motivating,” Rico says.

Rico has her own personal motivation that keeps her going at the end of the toughest races: Her father died five years ago, but he pushed himself until the end. “When the doctors said he couldn’t do things like leave the hospital and come to my children’s baptism, he still did it,” she says, tearing up. “I think to myself, ‘If he could do those things, I can do this.’ ”