Today's Iron Girl Atlanta triathlon wasn't the goal that got Wendy Watson to lose nearly 100 pounds.

It is a goal that's helped the 47-year-old Suwanee resident keep the weight off.

Accomplished and adventurous, Watson has an impressive physique. Now.

Her cotton-candy pink Iron Girl T-shirt stretches over muscular shoulders and reveals arms any guy would envy. A glance at her legs and it's clear 18 miles of biking today isn't going to be an issue.

But less than two years ago, Watson didn't look anything like that.

"I'd been overweight for years, for well over 10 years," she said. "I called it in the 200 club."

In 2007, Watson's road to fitness began prosaically enough.

"I started going to the gym, but mostly it was the lame kind of gym stuff," Watson said. "I was there for maybe an hour doing a little bit of lifting."

Watson, a single mom with two kids in grade school, lost about 20 pounds with exercise and didn't want to gain it back. But she hadn't made any sweeping changes to her life, including her eating habits.

"But January 2008, for whatever reason, I made the decision to join a new club, a different club, to really make an effort to lose the last of my weight," Watson said.

To do that, she enrolled in a 12-week, small-group program at Lifetime Fitness that incorporates cardio and strength training.

"Just like everybody, I didn't know anyone and I didn't know anything about the gym necessarily," Watson said. "So I joined Team Fitness. It's a group activity so you got to meet people and it was more social. You know you have to meet people (for class) and if I have an appointment, I'm there. If I don't, I won't.

"It was great. I'd lost, I think, about 15 pounds during that program. But I still had a ways to go."

And being self-aware, Watson knew she needed another goal.

"I'm really famous for coming off vacations and not going back (to working out)," she said with a laugh. "But I hooked up with this trainer. At the time she was working at Lifetime Fitness. Her name was Michelle Bertrand. She's an ex-powerlifter, bodybuilder. I was seeing her just on Saturdays and I told her that I needed something to work toward, I needed a goal.

"I was thinking like a 10K or something like that. And she goes, 'Have you ever thought about bodybuilding?'"

Not surprisingly, Watson hadn't. But Bertrand said she had the body type for it.

"So I started training with her and went and saw my first show in July," Watson said. "I went and just watched it and went, 'Oh my God, this is serious stuff.'

"I was thinking of doing it kind of as a lark, you know. Not a lark, but I just needed a goal and I thought this would be fun - having no idea what I was getting myself into. When I walked away from that show in July, I was like, 'OK, now you really have to crack down.'"

Watson started a 12-week cycle to train for a show in October.

"When I went in, I weighed 138 pounds and I'd started in January at about 190," Watson said. "In seven or eight months, I'd lost that much weight. And not just lost the weight - because in bodybuilding nobody cares about your weight, it's percentage of body fat. I'd gone from like 34 (percent) down to 10."

Watson won both classes she entered - masters, for women over 40, and novice.

"I got invited to the November pro and elite show and I got my pro card at that show," Watson said. "Then I took some time off, but I again needed another target. So I had a couple of bodybuilding shows I targeted in May.

"I knew after that I was probably going to take a break from doing shows because your body can only do so many. So I needed something else."

Another woman at Watson's gym mentioned the Iron Girl Atlanta triathlon. The event is being held today for the fourth straight year at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

"So I signed up for it at the exact same time I signed up for my shows."

Watson has a long list of accomplishments in her life.

She has an engineering degree from the University of New Brunswick in her native Canada.

Living in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid-'90s, she raced sailboats and scuba dived. She got her pilot's license and skied.

She's a single mom and works for an international technology development company - which is how she ended up moving to Gwinnett in 2004.

She was a certified national lifeguard in Canada and is now a certified pro bodybuilder in the U.S.

But she was still a little worried about the triathlon.

"It's different from training for bodybuilding," Watson said. "Bodybuilding, we do do cardio, but it's more to lean up, to lose weight. It's not for endurance. So I was concerned about coming right off a bodybuilding show and going right into training for endurance."

"I mean, I'm in shape. Mentally I just looked at it, and this is how I'm coping," she said with a chuckle, "as two hours of cardio in the gym. I am taking it seriously, but I don't want to freak myself out."

It's not the 1/3-mile swim. A former lifeguard wouldn't blink at that.

It's not the 18 miles of biking.

She's even done other triathlons, years ago before she got so out of shape.

"It's the running that kills me," Watson said. "But the truth is, through the bodybuilding process, I've built up my ability to run more so three to five miles isn't a big stretch. But the combination of all three ...

"For me though, just to get to be participating in it and complete it - I do have a personal goal of what I want to reach for my time but I keep that to myself - it's just more to get out and be a part of promoting women in fitness."

This year's Iron Girl Atlanta is being taped for NBC to broadcast on Aug. 23. But after years of watching things like this on TV, Watson is no longer on the couch.

"Having been on the other side," Watson said, "it's nice to actually finally be back in the fray of it all."


When: Today, 7 a.m.

Where: Lake Lanier Islands Resort

Triathlon length: 1/3-mile swim, 18-mile bike, three-mile run

TV: Event will be broadcasted by NBC at 1 p.m. on Aug. 23