Navy Veteran Brea Northup, a valued member of the VA workforce in Spokane, recently finished her third Ironman Triathlon. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but this time, what she didn’t count on was having her body shut down on her during the race.

She drew strength to finish from many places deep within her heart and mind: friends, family, her children, and her hero – the “Iron Nun.”

“Running began a new chapter in life for me,” Northup said. “It took me over a year and half to recover from the anguish of divorce and the reality I have two little boys counting on me to win every day in life. I want them to understand what perseverance is. And, as athletes, we have to learn to embrace the suck.”

From getting the boys up early each day, committing to her own training regimen, completing a bachelor’s degree in Management, and running her own business, Northup knew that running was about pushing herself – and not just for a race.

Started club of walking/running with a child in a stroller

She started the “Stroller Warriors” running club while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. Stroller Warrior is walking/running with a child in a stroller.

Future ironman competitor Brea Northup

“I am insanely proud of how military service shaped my life and I am so incredibly proud to be a Veteran… serving other Veterans.”

After being transferred to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Puget Sound, she started another Stroller Warriors chapter in Oak Harbor, WA. It quickly grew to more than 300 members and is still active today.

Since then, Northup has remarried to an active duty sailor and taken on two stepdaughters.

She maintains a full-time job at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane in the Environmental Management Services office, serving her fellow Veterans.

Next challenge: Ironman Triathlon… in July

Northup chose the July Ironman Triathlon in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for her newest challenge.

The race includes an exhaustive 2.4-mile swim in the open waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene and a 112-mile bike ride in temperatures of 100 degrees. The final “leg” of the race is a full marathon.

Bit 19 miles into the 26-mile run, her body began to shut down.

She had to stop at an aid tent and all of her attempts to reach family or friends by cellphone fell flat.

“I was in a lot of pain but couldn’t reach anybody to let them know I wasn’t going to be able to make it,” she said. “But if I had received sympathy or ‘permission’ to stop, I knew I would have quit.”

Needed salt and electrolytes

Northup admits she doesn’t have a professional trainer and underestimated the excruciating pain of not planning for proper nutrition for fueling herself for an Ironman race.

Despite drinking a bottle of water every 30-minutes throughout the previous 15-hours of competing, her body needed salt and more electrolytes if there was going to be any chance at finishing within triathlon deadline.

“My hands were losing feeling and cramping,” she added. “I had a headache and was dizzy. I didn’t want to drink or eat anything. It was scary.”

Even more than the physical and emotional toll was the overwhelming thought of having a Did Not Finish – “DNF” disqualifier label placed after her name on the race log.

Then, as if an answer to prayer, while thinking of all those pulling for her, her determination enabled her to stand back up and slowly begin walking, step by step toward the finish line.

Behind on time, she was surprised to see her children and a fellow Veteran who showed up in the dark, looking for her, trying to give her one final “push” of love and strength.

Veteran friend ran alongside to the finish line

“My Veteran friend Ashley proceeded to walk with me the remaining five miles in her Birkenstocks,” she said. “She even pushed me at the end, by running alongside me outside the race line towards the infamous red carpet/finish line.

And, it worked. After 15-hours of endurance, a race against the clock, and two more hours of debilitating pain and dehydration, Northup finished the 2021 Ironman Triathlon with less than 10-minutes to spare.

The former Navy Honor Guard Veteran has stood for and honored others who could no longer do so for themselves. In this case, her children, friends and inspiration of an Iron Nun are all standing in awe.

“I work hard to pass on what I have learned to others, while continuing to push myself,” she added.

By Bret Bowers is a public affairs officer for the Mann-Grandstaff VA.

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Published on Aug. 16, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.9 min.

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  1. Joan Sullivan COL(ret) August 17, 2021 at 6:49 pm

    You are a class act Brea, and a true inspiration to all who know your story. Congratulations on conquering a daunting challenge!

  2. BravoTechArena August 16, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    Reading this article makes me more proud of being in the military

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