AN athlete who only learnt to swim and ride a bike five years ago has overcome the odds after she was selected for the world championships.

Jean Gillespie, 64, will travel to the annual Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in October, for the chance to cross the line as Ironman world champion.

Mrs Gillespie who lives in Bradbury, near Sedgefield, will face gruelling conditions as she takes part in the long distance triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon run – all to be completed in 17 hours.

She said: "I can't believe that I've actually qualified, the first ever triathlon I did I thought I was going to die but I knew I had to keep going.

"Once I did Klagenfurt Ironman in Austria it was always my aim to get to the world championships. They're the holy grail of Ironman but really hard because the distances are really long – every race is different and you never know what will happen on the day.

"The world championships are the place everyone wants to go because it's just amazing, My good friends and my husband are all coming along with me for support."

The athlete was first introduced to Ironman in preparation for her 60th birthday.

She wanted to do something special to honour the celebration and decided she was going to complete Ironman Austria-Kärnten, in Klagenfurt, which she achieved on her 60th birthday.

Mrs Gillespie trained for a year before the event and successfully finished but was left with injuries following the event.

The athlete took a year-and-a-half break to recover but came back fighting.

She qualified for the world championships following Ironman Ireland, in Cork, earlier this year.

She landed the spot in the world championships after placing third on the podium against athletes from across the world.

Mrs Gillespie said she was thrilled to be included in the race and has been training hard in preparation.

She exercises for a minimum of two hours a day on weekdays and can train for up to six hours on a weekend.

She fits in the gruelling workouts all whilst working full time as the business owner of the Aristocats and Allsorts Luxury Cat Hotel.

She said: "I train to be the best I possibly can be. I feel extremely grateful to be included in the championship and just want to finish the race and keep progressing."