The Coastal Star

Meet Your Neighbor: Elizabeth McDonough

Elizabeth McDonough, a mental health counselor and triathlete, lives on Hypoluxo Island with her husband, J.J., and their sons, Kane, 8, and Van, 4.  Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

As if having a husband, two young boys and a career as a mental health counselor aren’t enough, Elizabeth McDonough of Hypoluxo Island has made room for another passion: competing in triathlons.

Age-group swimming as a youngster followed by relationships with a runner and a cyclist gave her enough exposure to undertake the sprint distance, usually a quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike and 3.1-mile run.

A year after the birth of her second son, McDonough, 39, found she was ready for more.

“I was getting ready for another sprint race and without even training I just went for a run and decided to see how far I could go. I did a whole sprint triathlon in a training session and said, ‘OK, I’m still in shape. So, I can handle more.’”

That was three years ago, and she has since focused on races at distances up to Olympic, consisting of a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10K run.

In March she finished in the middle of her age group at the Fort Lauderdale race, which consisted of a .6-mile swim, 20-mile bike ride and 10K run, and she plans to race a similar distance Sept. 8 at Miami.

“I love the Olympic distance,” she said. “It pushes me in different ways. I met a woman in March who’s in her 50s and she’s done all different races and has grown children, and there’s something about her that really touched me.”

Finding time to train is a challenge, especially considering McDonough tries to work on two events a day for 10-12 weeks leading up to an Olympic race.

“I can make my own work schedule, and my husband  is really supportive,” she said of J.J. McDonough. “I have babysitters that come in for an hour when I’m training. They get it. But I have to use every moment that I have. J.J. participates in the sprint-distance triathlons when he’s in town and has time to train.

“Our family joke is that Mommy is way faster than Daddy, though it’s not a joke,” McDonough said.  “J.J. has been racing since his 20s. Whether or not he participates in a race, we train together. We are both competitive with each other and we love it.” 

The exercise hones her determination and focus and is a healthy way to cope with life’s challenges, she said.

“It’s been really good for me in all aspects of my life. And body image is great, too. I’ve always said it’s secondary, but it does feel good to be approaching 40 and maybe even 50 with a six-pack.”

McDonough works in Boynton Beach. Her husband owns and operates a luxury service company that provides domestic household staffing and brokers the rental of private islands, ranches and large estates. 

“We share a love for art and music and, coincidentally, the same group of friends,” she said. “We are both native to Palm Beach County, yet never met until a magical night at Dada in Delray Beach during its grand opening. Our eyes locked there, and it’s been a fun adventure ever since.”            

 — Brian Biggane

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?

A: I grew up in Delray Beach and went to Spady Elementary, Banyan Creek Elementary, the original Carver Middle School and the original Atlantic High School on Seacreast. Being exposed to all walks of life has made me more compassionate and understanding. I’ve been in the minority, I have been bullied, but I also have not been in the minority and I also have not been so kind. All of my experiences in life led me to this very moment … and I am grateful for that. 

Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

A: I began babysitting at age 10, I had a house-cleaning business when I was in high school, I’ve worked as a waitress in college. I decided to go to school for architecture and then worked as an interior decorator. I finally stepped away from my family’s construction business and interior design and followed a fitness passion I had had since I was very young. I started personal training after college, and I realized that there is more to life than vanity. I struggled with body image myself and had an eating disorder during a toxic relationship. This led me to receiving my master’s at FAU in mental health counseling. I now help women, men and families with unfolding the best version of themselves, feeling fulfilled, inspired, joyful and healthy.

My favorite accomplishment is my connectivity and ability to facilitate transformation with my clients. I’ve had many fitness accomplishments; helping people reach weight and strength goals. As a mental health counselor, I feel like I have daily accomplishments working with such inspiring people. One of my favorite clients was a woman who couldn’t be in the same room with her baby. We worked together overcoming the fear and the anxiety, and when she finally held her little one, she looked up, and our eyes met with tears of joy. I learn every day and feel grateful to help people step into the very best version of themselves. When I see the relief in their eyes, a smile of joy, a hug of gratitude, I know I’m living my best life. Secretly, I keep a binder of all my thank-you notes from clients, just in case I have an off day. I am human. 

Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?

A: Explore for as long as you can. Learn about people. Educate yourself with a trade or something of service. Feel inspired daily. 

Q: How did you choose to make your home on Hypoluxo?

A: One of my first babysitting jobs was on Hypoluxo Island. I was 16. I dreamed I’d one day live on the island. I never imagined I’d be so young and get to experience raising my children here. It’s truly a dream. 

Q: What is your favorite part about living on Hypoluxo Island in Lantana? 

A: I live on an island with an immense amount of old tree growth and canopy, which is rare these days in South Florida. The island is filled with amazing history, from the barefoot mailman to one of the first homes built in Palm Beach County.

Q: What book are you reading now?

A: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. She’s amazing. 

Q: What music do you listen to?

A: Different forms of jazz, smooth and electronic. Also, Sade, Derek Trucks, Tom Misch, Zero 7.

Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?

A: Without a doubt my mom and dad have been influential. The way I love, I give and I nurture come from my mom; my determination, my love for fitness and desire for living the best life is from my dad. And also my brother, who has kept me stable. As for inspiring individuals, ha ha yes, in my teens, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe, but more recently Brené Brown, my mentor Franye Coverman, my husband and my son Kane, 8. He was the one who rooted for me and changed my life for good. 

Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you?

A: Kate Hudson. She’s fun, fit and an entrepreneur. I love that she uplifts women and I do the same. 

Q: Who makes you laugh?

A: My brother, Zachary, and my 4-year-old son, Van the man. They can do or say anything and bring me to tears laughing. I’m a happy person so I laugh quite often. ... Laughing is the best cure.  

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