Nicole Kelleher grabbed the finish line tape and held it over her head as she completed the seventh annual Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon Aug. 19. The clock behind her read 1:24:19.
Kelleher, a second-year professional triathlete, finished 36 seconds ahead of 2008 Ironman World champion Michellie Jones of Australia.
"The race today was fantastic," she said in a post-race interview. "I came out of the water fourth and was able to work with Michellie Jones to move up in the bike which is an honor because she is a legend in the sport. The encouragement and atmosphere (here) was awesome."
For all intents and purposes, it appeared that Kelleher was the race winner.
Except that she wasn't.
Kelleher, 30, was penalized 2 minutes for drafting on the bike course. The penalty lifted Jones (1:24:56) into first place and dropped Kelleher, who is in her final year of medical school at the University of Virginia, to fourth. Her official finish time was 1:26:20.
Lindsey Jerdonek of Sagamore Hills, Ohio (1:25:11) and Alice Henriques ofWashington, D.C.(1:25:19) were second and third, respectively.
Sharon Schmidt-Mongrain of Lafayette Hill, Penn. was fifth (1:31:08).
Jones, a seven-time Triathlete Magazine Triathlete of the Year took home the first-place cash prize of $1,700.
Columbia's Suzy Serpico had a bike chain problem and had to push her bike barefoot the final two miles along Route 108. Still, she finished 16th overall and was philosophical about her problem. "It happened. I'm O.K, with it."
Prior to the race, Jessica Hensley of Fallston was awarded the "Power to the She" award. Athleta presents the award to one woman whose story has the power to inspire athletes and women everywhere.
Shortly after Brittany Ebbertt crossed the finish line, Russ Burris, a Howard County Police Officer, dropped to his knee and asked her to marry him. She accepted without hesitation.
The Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon is the largest event of its type in the nation. The last two years, registration has closed in four hours. Over 2,000 women ages 12-76 participated Sunday. There were 110 relay teams and 36 mother-daughter teams.
The Iron Girl consisted of a .62-mile swim, a 17.5-mile bike race and a 3.3-mile run and starts and finishes at Centennial Park.
"We could not have asked for a more beautiful morning for our Iron Girls," said Robert Vigorito, president and founder of TriColumbia, which stages the event. "Each and every individual here is an inspiration to us all."
Results can be found at http://www.tricolumbia.org.