Carrie O’Bryan Runs Her Life

We sometimes need to make really tough choices and live by them; and in the end, we are often better off

By Alix J. Shutello
Photos Courtesy of Chris Barnes

Carrie O’Bryan’s life was about devotion to her religion and her family. After marrying at age 17 and having 8 kids, she took up running to lose weight; but her casual attire was not acceptable to the strict dress code of the Mennonite community in which she lived. Running led to her family’s ex-communication from the strict lifestyle of the Mennonite Church, and the O’Bryan family moved away from their community. Over the years, O’Bryan made a name for herself as a triathlete; but in 2013, when she began the painful separation from her husband of 22 years, she needed time to heal. Now, after a three-year hiatus from competition, O’Bryan – replete with a new boyfriend and new training regimen – completed the Tampa Double Anvil in March 2017. She is looking to complete her first Triple Anvil at Lake Anna, Va., this fall.

Carrie O’Bryan stood in front of the mirror to check her appearance before she headed out the door. She inspected her long flowing pants to make sure her legs were completely covered and that her long-sleeved shirt covered her arms. She jumped up and down to watch her chest move; she often wore two sports bras to make sure her breasts didn’t bounce when she ran. Finally, she tucked her hair up into a small white prayer cap, and tied her hair back tight. Not until then did she step out the door to log miles in the strict Mennonite community she inhabited.

Sometimes when she ran, O’Bryan’s hair would come loose and fly free outside her cap. Other women in the community called her a “harlot” for showing herself in public with her hair not perfectly in place. O’Byran’s husband, a leader in the Mennonite church, condoned her running; but when she consulted him and church leadership about wearing a running skirt with long tights, things changed. The church leadership wouldn’t approve it; she would look too different.

O’Bryan, 39, was born in Saginaw, Mich., but raised in Claremore, Oklahoma. She was a runner in high school, but found herself pregnant at age 17. She graduated from high school, had a baby two weeks later, and went to work as a hair stylist two weeks after that. In the midst of giving birth and starting a job, she got married – something enforced by her parents because of their Irish-Christian faith. By her mid-twenties, O’Bryan had four children, and the marriage with her now-estranged husband, Randy, was hitting a rough patch. She and her husband turned to religion to keep their marriage strong. They met friends who were looking for more structure in their faith, and who talked the O’Bryans into moving to a Mennonite Community in Oregon.

Once the O’Bryans settled in Oregon, they flourished in the community. O’Bryan’s husband became a church leader. O’Bryan (who was pregnant for 10 years in a row) spent her days home schooling her 8 children, cooking and taking care of the household.

“I cooked and cleaned with one child on my hip and one in my belly,” O’Bryan said….

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