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Growing up in North Little Rock, Ark., Angie Orellano-Fisher's exercise routine began and ended in gym class.
In her early 30s, after giving birth to three daughters -- Jennifer, Whitney and Christal, now 41, 31 and 29, respectively -- she started attending aerobics class three times a week "just to do something for myself." She'd also walk, which slowly gave way to jogging.
By 40, Orellano-Fisher's older brother, Dan, a distance runner, challenged her to a 10K.
"I finished in 50-something minutes and got hooked," she recalled. "I never stopped from that point on."
The one-time aerobics devotee quickly morphed into a competitive ultra marathoner, who over the past 20 years has finished 12 100-mile races, eight 50-milers and 51 marathons. Running in the National Senior Olympics from 2000 through 2005, she took home 14 gold medals. In 2005, she was inducted into the Arkansas Roadrunners Club of America Hall of Fame.
Her latest feat, cycling, never entered her mind until the fall of 2009 when, at age 59, Orellano-Fisher accepted an invitation from Joe Petersen, a cyclist with Team Mannatech (a supplement company representing more than 200 athletes worldwide), to compete in the June 2010 Race Across America (RAAM). "I had been wanting to do something really big to ring in my 60th birthday," Orellano-Fisher said. "... Joe encouraged me and I thought, 'Well, this must be what I'm supposed to do.'"
She bought a bike and helmet, learned how to clip in and shift gears and spent the next 10 months preparing to race across 12 states, from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md.
"Riding was very awkward and different from what I'd done," she said of transitioning from heels to wheels. "But I'd signed the dotted line, and I was committed."
Her RAAM team, Team JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) was comprised of eight men and women over the age of 50 riding four tandem bikes, leapfrog-style: 30 minutes of all-out biking, followed by 90 minutes of riding in a van while another team rode their leg of the relay. "It was around-the-clock," Orellano-Fisher said. "Those 90 minutes were what we had to eat, hydrate, change clothes, sleep. We never even showered."
The rookie cyclist was the stoker on her bike -- the person in back providing kick-off power and strength. Her tandem partner Bernie Barge, 54, piloted the bike, setting the pace and navigating.
RAAM took six days, 14 hours and 55 minutes for Team JDRF to finish, beating the existing record by six hours, setting a new record for the four tandem mixed team, 50-59 age division. Its average speed was 18.91 mph. It raised a whopping $380,000 for juvenile diabetes research.
RAAM is not the first race in which Orellano-Fisher has generated impressive funds. She raised $3,500 with the 1997 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society marathon, rode 400 miles from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles last year to raise money for malnourished children and has participated in a host of 5K and 10K races dedicated to helping breast cancer research and foster children.
Orellano-Fisher's youngest daughter, Christal Ransom, inherited her mom's athletic abilities: The 2010 National Judo Champion is now training for the 2012 Olympic Games.
"My mom's one of the toughest people I've ever met," Ransom said. "During her first 100-miler, she sprained her ankle at the 50-mile mark, then ran another 50 miles on it. When she sets her mind to do something, she does it."
That incredible perseverance guides Ransom during her rigorous twice-daily judo training sessions. "If I ever want to quit, I just think of my mom. She's such a tough, inspirational person and I think, 'If she can do it, I can, too.'"
Now 61 and residing in Nipomo, Calif., Orellano-Fisher is commonly mistaken for someone 20 years her junior, a compliment she attributes to a lifetime of exercise and smart supplementing (she serves as a Team Mannatech representative).
Her two-hour workouts, six days a week, rely heavily on crosstraining for injury prevention: Running, biking, Spin classes, yoga, elliptical and weight training. As a result, she enjoys "endless energy" and describes her body's ability to recover as "phenomenal."
"Don't ever underestimate yourself," Orellano-Fisher advises her fellow athletes and fans. "I don't think about my age; I go on how I feel. It's all commitment, consistency and hard work. Put your dreams out there -- put them high and work toward them. You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish."