A wet and gloomy morning couldn't stop the scores of female endurance athletes who arrived at Centennial Lake Park ready to compete in the 8th annual Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon Sunday.
With a time of 1:23:12, it was local Hammond Elementary School P.E. teacher Suzy Serpico who finished victorious.
Serpico crossed the line one minute and 23 seconds ahead of second-place finisher, Kristin Andrews of Chevy Chase. Loren Winebrenner, Hyndman, Pa, winner of the 2013 TriColumbia Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon back in June, finished third (1:28:46).
"The biggest challenge, as you can see, was the weather," an elated Serpico said after the race. "Unfortunately, on the bike with a little bit of wet roads, it's not the safest. You do have to take a little bit of time to slow down."
Though Serpico wasn't a split leader for any of the three legs of the race, it was her consistency in each area that led to her eventual win.
The triumph was important for Serpico, who suffered a bike chain problem during her 16th place finish in last year's race. Just one year later, it was smooth sailing for the 33-year-old, who collected the $1,700 first-place prize.
Race organizers expected over 2,000 athletes to participate in Iron Girl this year, which consisted of a 0.62-mile swim, 16-mile bike ride and 3.4-mile run to finish it off.
While some looked to cross the finish line as a champion, many other women were competing for something of much greater importance. Whether it was for a cause, or to raise awareness for a disease close to their heart, many ladies raced individually, or as a team, for something much bigger than a race.
Allison Harper participated to honor Susan Doucet, her best friend who lost her battle with Leukemia earlier in the year.
"She loved Iron Girl," said Harper, who tackled the bike portion of the race for her relay team. "She had this great energy about her and I knew that she was passionate about this race."
Harper said the celebration of her friend would motivate her to continue racing in the future.
"I plan to do Iron Girl every year as long as my body is able. And I will always race in her memory," she said.
Linda Congedo, director of communications for TriColumbia, the sponsoring organization behind the race, said the race creates the opportunity for women to "compete without really competing.
"This event is all about empowering women," Congedo said during the race. "(It's) about women reaching goals that they never thought they could achieve, and overcoming challenges."
One thing that makes Iron Girl unique is its all-women field, something that Congedo says is especially important, as it creates a situation where women can support one another.
"People actually find it to be quite an inspirational event," she said of the race.
The Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon featured women from 36 different states, making up a field of relay teams and individual participants. The event registration has closed within hours of first opening over the past few years, and a waitlist has become commonplace given its huge popularity both locally and nationally.
For full race results, visit http://www.tricolumbia.org.