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Director and A Member of the Founding Committee
Dottie Dorion Fitness Center
Jacksonville Track Club
Still Going Strong
Youthful energy radiates from Dottie Dorion.
Recipient of the 2000 Florida Sports Lifetime Achievement award and Jacksonville’s 2001 EVE award winner for volunteer service, Dorion has inspired women around the world to take charge of their health and strive for excellence in every area of their lives. A super athlete who has competed in over 250 Triathlons (running, swimming and biking) since the early 1980’s, including the World Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, Dottie was co-founder of the Jacksonville Track Club, River Run 15K and Women’s 5K races. “I enjoy competing and I thank God for the athletic ability He’s given me,” she says, “but I never pray to win. I pray that it will be a healthy and safe event.” “Healthy” and “safe” are two words that have defined many of this tireless lady’s accomplishments in the First Coast community over the past thirty years. Wife, mother and grandmother as well as an accomplished athlete, Dottie also has degrees in nursing from Columbia University and in Special Education from Southern Connecticut State College, as well a teaching certification in Special Education from the University of North Florida. “My background in athletics, nursing and education has given me the opportunity to be involved in a broad spectrum of activities here,” says Dottie, the first director and a member of the founding committee of Hospice of Northeast Florida in 1978. “Back in the 50’s, I had a lot of experiences in East Harlem as a visiting nurse. Sometimes I was the only one people would see week in and week out. I saw so much need and so much tragedy. I remember thinking at the time, ‘there must be a better way to die.’ That’s why I was so excited when I heard about hospice.” At one of the early Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. (JCCI) studies on needs of the community, Dottie met Lois Graessle, also an advocate for hospice. “The problem with hospice was that no one knew much about it back then,” remembers Dottie. Lois and Dottie and several others from Jacksonville became grassroots political lobbyists in order to bring hospice to Jacksonville. A healthy lifestyle for everyone is a high priority to Dottie. In 2001, she established a physical fitness program for residents of Community Connections and funded the Healthy Connections Workout Facility. “Through programs like this, women are becoming more aware of the need for exercise and good eating habits,” says Dottie. “When they come into Community Connections, many of them are very overweight. They are dealing with so many challenges that they forget about taking care of their own health. We encourage them to be role models for their children by setting personal goals in fitness. It’s made an amazing difference in many of their lives.” A pioneer among female athletes, Dottie remembers that she had little opportunity to participate in “real” sports when she was a youngster in Long Island, New York. “My twin brother and I were both hyperactive – we were known as ‘Double Trouble,’” she laughs. “We were fantastic acrobats on monkey bars, rope climbing and gymnastic stunts. We played neighborhood games like Ring O Levio, Stick Ball, Kick the Can, Red Rover, Sardines, etc.” At her father’s company picnics, Dottie competed in kids’ running events where she “cleaned up,” and won “all kinds of loot.” Once in a while, she would pass as a boy (“short hair, no boobs”) in some of her brothers track meets. In high school, she remembers wearing the hated bloomer gym suits and being barred from participating in the boys team sports. “We usually got left over coaches from the boys teams,” she says, “but once we had a real field hockey coach that was a SHE!” As a result of expert coaching from a “real” coach, Dottie’s high school field hockey team won several championships. “When we would try and play a pickup game of basketball or baseball, we had to deal with those ‘Old Wives Tales’ such as: your uterus will fall out from such strenuous activity and you’ll never get a boyfriend being a ‘Tomboy,’” recalls Dottie. Even after college graduation, she found that tennis and golf were the only acceptable sports for women at the time. When the Dorions moved to Jacksonville in 1970, Dottie joined the tennis team at Deerwood, but found that playing on the A-Team in a womens tennis league was just not enough of a challenge for her. In 1975, when her oldest son encouraged her to start running with him at the Jacksonville Episcopal High School Track, she began a journey that has taken her to tracks all over the world. “At the beginning, I couldn’t run half a mile without stopping,” she recalls. “I vowed that one year from that date I would get in shape and run a marathon.” After reaching her goal, Dottie ran in several marathons including the Avon Women’s Running Series and the Bonnie Bell Series. When she became injured as a long distance runner, she kept in shape by biking. “It was then that I decided to learn how to swim so that I could do a triathlon,” Dottie says. Thinking that learning to swim would be a breeze for her, Dottie nearly drowned the first time she tried. “I had almost no body fat and couldn’t float,” she remembers. “Learning to swim at age fifty was very difficult for me.” Since then, she has traveled around the world six times representing the U.S.A. in triathlons. Involved in national and international triathlon federations, Dottie is proud to be considered one of the “Old Iron Ladies.” While many women are sensitive about revealing their age, Dottie is thrilled to be 68 years old and can’t wait until she reaches the seventy mark. “We triathletes compete in five year increments,” she says. “It’s getting easier and easier to win as I get older and have less competition.” In triathlon events, she notes that competitors have their age marked on the back of their legs in order to easily identify their age group. “I love it when I run past a twenty-year-old and see the look of amazement,” she laughs. “I feel great,” confides Dottie. “My husband thinks I look good. I like wearing a size six and, although I’m a grandmother, I have enough muscle mass from working out daily that I’ve been able to avoid having “grandmother fat” hanging off of my arms.” Dottie considers her husband to be her sponsor and maintstay, along with her four children and one grandchild. “Whether you like it or not, children learn by example,” she observes. “All of our children are athletes, as well as successful goal-setters” Speaking at the dedication of Mayo Clinic’s new Cannaday Building in November of 2000, Dottie quipped, “I’m not just another old lady doing ‘crazy things.’” Far from being a crazy old lady, Dottie has opened doors for female athletic opportunities on college campuses across the country. Later in her speech at the Mayo Clinic, she referred to the University of North Florida’s Dottie Dorion Fitness Center, endowed in 1996. There are three reasons, she commented, why that facility is very special to her: “1) It was the first building at UNF named for a woman 2) It’s a ‘jock’ building named for a woman and 3) The woman is still alive!” A woman who lives life to the fullest, Dottie considers family, friends and her community to be her first priorities. Her personal weekly fitness regimen includes biking, running and swimming, as well as kayaking and practicing yoga. Her daily diet is a healthy one, consisting of four or five small meals that include very little meat and a lot of fruit and vegetables. “I drink a lot of smoothies and eat whole grains — rice, beans, lentils,” she says. Dottie Dorion has the discernment to see what must be done and the energy to do it. Always open to filling a community need, she is currently involved in Volunteers for Medicine, a project that utilizes retired nurses, physicians and volunteers to supplement the health care system and serve the uninsured and under-served population. “I learned about Volunteers for Medicine at an annual Kayak for Charity event,” says Dottie, “and we are already up and running, with our 501C-3 status in place and a recently retired physician, Jim Burt, encouraging others in the medical community to get involved. Years from now, when Dottie Dorion crosses the final finish line, she plans to be well over 100 years old and still going strong.
2009 Big Kids Celebrities
Name: Dottie Dorion
In the Jacksonville community, Dottie rarely needs an introduction. As a co-founder of the Jacksonville Track Club and the River Run, she has made her mark on sporting events across the First Coast for more than 40 years. She was an Olympic Torch Bearer for the City of Jacksonville in 1996 and has been an All American Triathlete for 25 years. She serves on the Boards of numerous charitable organizations, sponsors many local athletes and funds 3 scholarships at UNF where she also established the Dottie Dorion Fitness Center in 1995.