Champion triathlete says age is no barrier to competing

Daphne Belt, 78, and her husband Stephen, 67, in Littlehampton. Picture: Darren Cool/Magnus News
Daphne Belt, 78, and her husband Stephen, 67, in Littlehampton. Picture: Darren Cool/Magnus News

Daphne Belt is one of the UK’s most successful athletes, winning world and European championships in the triathlon – and she started competing only after her 50th birthday.

Daphne, 78, has now completed nearly 380 triathlons, conquering the combined swimming, cycling and running event at locations around the globe.

She and her husband Stephen, 67, race together when they find time away from their antiques business in Littlehampton.

No antiques themselves, the couple has completed Ironman (3,800m swim, 112-mile cycle, and marathon run), Half Ironman (1,900m swim, 56-mile cycle and half-marathon run) and Olympic (1,500m swim, 35-mile cycle and six-mile run) competitions.

Determined Daphne is so committed, even broken bones don’t stop her from finishing races.

The 5ft2in athlete has raised thousands for charity down the years, once setting herself the goal of running 75 triathlons in 75 days when she turned the same age.

She is now an ambassador for the charity Age UK in West Sussex and will defend her current European half-Ironman title in her age group in Denmark this summer.

Her passion for the sport has meant she has overcome many of the problems faced by older people, such as mobility issues and keeping an active social life.

Ahead of the London Marathon on Sunday, Daphne is hoping to spread the message it is never too late to take up sport.

Daphne said: “I never had a problem turning 40 but when I approached 50, I thought I was going to go seriously downhill. So, I joined a gym and started to exercise before doing my first triathlon.

“I wasn’t exactly a couch potato but I did have a 30-year layoff from being a dancer in my childhood and teens.

“I think if you don’t want to exercise when you’re older, it’s your funeral. We are all responsible for our own way of life and that includes laziness or being totally involved in a lifestyle that leaves you no time for anything else. But do what you love doing, whatever that may be, in which case you still die happy.

“Since starting triathlons it’s all been a benefit, there is no down side, I have made loads of friends and my other friends eyes do not glaze over when I talk about my sport.

“Although, some friends who don’t exercise repeatedly tell me I’m a nutter.

“We race all over the world, from Europe, to Japan, Australia, the USA and Canada, I love racing in America.

“It’s not really an expensive pursuit, because instead of going to the Costa del Sol or Tenerife we go to a race, and we love to travel, we are both collectors of maps and cartophiles, if that is the word.”

Daphne will be cycling for Age UK West Sussex in the 100-mile event Vélo South on September 23, as part of the charity’s bid to encourage everyone over 50 to take part in sport and raise funds to fight loneliness. To enter visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/westsussex/cycle

She said: “It is vitally important you take the best care you can of your own body and indeed your mind, we all know what we should do.

“I don’t expect everybody to do as much as I do, but we should all stop using the time factor as an excuse, because otherwise you could run out of time completely.”

Daphne and Stephen, who runs Stephen Belt Antiques, support each other every paddle, peddle and step of the way. They even try to maintain a healthy diet, most of the time.

Daphne said: “Monday to Friday we do eat healthily, chicken and salmon and so on, and Stephen does all the cooking, he’s up to a chef standard really.

“We are both foodies though and we do enjoy fine dining, as well as a treat at the weekends, a cake or something. If we go to the cinema I am allowed sweets, so I can have a bag of jelly beans or jelly snakes.

“Stephen is huge in my life and my sport, he is my coach, training partner, bike slave, head chef, private shopper, trip arranger and bestie.

“He was always been in my world of sport and in fact he started triathlon the year before me. We nearly always enter the same races and have both been part of the GBR team for many years.”

Stephen has completed more than 30 Ironman races compared to Daphne’s 18, and the pair will race again at the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Daphne’s most major mishap during her incredible career happened actually when she was on holiday in Italy in 2013.

During a morning run in Lecce she fell and managed to break three bones and badly cut herself. She’s also suffered a few breaks falling off her bike over the years but broken bones have never stopped her from carrying on.

She said: “I broke two toes before a world championship race in Perth, Australia, but I didn’t look at the damage until after the race. It would have been a long way to go, never mind the expense, not to have carried on.

“I was given silver in my age group on identical times as the gold medallist and I won my age group in Ironman Camp Pendleton, California, a week later, which gave me a slot to the Ironman Hawaii World Championships.”

As well as racing, Daphne is also a keen poet, penning lyrics in her spare time on her own blog www.dafbelt.blogspot.co.uk

Despite all her achievements, the wife and mother remains humble about her life in sport.

In their home in Littlehampton, a long line of medals is strung on the wall in lounge of the house, with the rest kept in the toilet.

The nine times world champion and four-time European champion said: “I have a friend, John Lunt, who is a big organiser of triathlons in the UK. John was involved in the first triathlon I ever did and has been a big influence on my triathlon career.

“I sent him picture of my medals the other day and he said, ‘car boot sale’, I said they probably wouldn’t sell and end up in a skip after I’m gone, but he said they should go in the box with me.

“Over the years there have been less people in my age group to compete against, except in the USA there are always people. They are obviously obese people over there, like here, but there are also people who love being super fit.

“It is nice sometimes to sit back and think about what you’ve done, both the medals and things and all the places we have been able to travel. For example, we are going to Finland this year and we’ve never been there before.”

Diane Henderson, chief executive of Age UK West Sussex, said: “We’re delighted Daphne is riding and fundraising for us as our ambassador.

“She’s an inspiration to all of us. Our members, volunteers and staff are already signing up to ride with her.

“We’re counting on the fact you don’t have to at Daphne’s level of fitness to enjoy Vélo South because as she says, if you’ve got 100 miles in the bank the week before, then you can bring it out on the day.

“But if you don’t fancy the ride yourself you can always support Daphne at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/daphne-belt2