Don't call it a lucky break. Amber Stull would gladly rewind to six weeks ago and not fall off her bike and not break her arm.
But Alaska's new Gold Nugget Triathlon champion had to admit that her injury might have helped her come from behind in the final mile Sunday and deny Shannon Donley a record ninth victory in the nation's longest-running all-female triathlon.
Stull beat Donley to the Bartlett High finish line by seven seconds to claim a victory made possible by duct tape and silly putty. She completed the 500-yard swim, 12-mile bike and four-mile run in 1 hour, 8 minutes, 49 seconds.
And she did it with her right arm in a cast, a hindrance that turned the normal activities associated with a triathlon into conundrums. Like how to hoist herself out of the deep end of the pool without putting weight on the arm. Or how to brake or shift gears on a bike.
"I have not been this nervous about a race in a long time," said Stull, 34. "I was nervous about braking, I was nervous about cornering, I was nervous about going down.
"I was very patient today, and there's a lot to learn from that."
She was resourceful too. Stull used duct tape to make her cast waterproof -- a tip from three-time champion Lori Deschamps, who in 2004 finished third with a broken arm. She used silly putty as part of her rehab, squeezing it with her right hand to get the strength needed to squeeze the brakes on her bike. To get out of the pool, she grabbed part of a diving board with her left hand and hoisted herself high enough to get her leg on the pool deck.
Stull's win makes her the ninth woman to claim a title in 29 runnings of the Gold Nugget. The bulk of the titles have gone to eight-time winners Donley, who was trying to become the first to win four in a row, and Alice Godfred, who dominated the early years of the race.
A capacity crowd of 1,500 took over Bartlett and nearby trails and roads for nearly the entire day. The first group of racers were in the pool at 9 a.m. The last group hit the pool several hours later.
Grandmothers dueled with grade schoolers as the triathlon continued its three-decades-long tradition of encouraging girls and women to embrace fitness, no matter their shape, size, age or ability.
First-time triathletes are common at the Gold Nugget, and among the many rookies Sunday was 62-year-old Alice Ambruz, who was racing because of a sonogram.
Ambruz is the grandmother of Lori and Garnett Deschamps' two little boys, 7-year-old Ryder and 20-month-old Colby. Ambruz was with her daughter two years ago when Lori's sonogram revealed that her second child was a boy, prompting a little conversation with long-term implications.
"She said, 'I guess I'll never do the mother-daughter race,' and I said, 'Oh, I'll do it," Ambruz said. "Moms will say anything."
Ambruz lived up to her promise. Even though she has never been a swimmer, biker or runner, she trained for the triathlon so she and Deschamps could enter the Gold Nugget's popular mother-daughter division.
"I race to garage sales," Ambruz said. "I've never done anything."
"I'm so proud of her," Deschamps said.
Those kind of stories abound at the Gold Nugget, which over the years has gotten more people off the couch than a pizza delivery man.
"I don't know any other race that has this range of diversity," Donley said. "I feel confident saying to almost anyone, "You can do this race.' It's obtainable."
Donley, 40, was fourth after the swim, first after the bike and led for much of the run. This year's run was long -- typically it's closer to three miles than four -- and that worked in Stull's favor.
Stull, one of the city's best bikers, increased her running after breaking her arm because it's easier to run with a broken arm than it is to swim or cycle. So she was primed for running and was able to reel in Donley, who made a dazzling debut in October's Ironman Triathlon -- fifth in her age group with the fourth-fastest bike time by all women other than pros.
"I haven't done the fast running. I knew I didn't have a lot of kick," she said. "If the run had been the usual 5-K I would've been OK."
Stull, who got the OK to race from her doctor on Friday, said she abandoned her usual plan of attack because of her injury.
"Normally I go balls to the wall, 110 percent all the way," she said. "Today I went 80 percent, then 90, then 100, then 110. I let it build -- and it's awful hard to do that in a sprint race."
It wasn't until Donley was within reach that Stull dared to think about winning.
"In the second or third mile of the run, I still had doubts," she said. "Then (Donley) slowed down and I started feeling good, and that's when it dawned on me, 'I might win this thing.' ''
A top Gold Nugget contender for several years, Stull broke her arm during a training ride in Hawaii. It was her first time on pavement after a winter spent pedaling indoors on a trainer and out of habit she looked down at her handlebars, expecting to see a computer screen filled with information about her progress. In the split-second her eyes were off the road, she bumped wheels with the cyclist ahead of her and went down. She had surgery a week later.
Stull said she had to give up training with her favorite group -- the Gals and Dogs Running Club -- because she didn't want to risk tripping over a dog. Her husband, Jamey, one of the city's top cyclists, started running more so he could keep her company, a kindness that paid off Saturday when he finished second in the Eklutna Challenge, a running and cycling race.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Gold Nugget Triathlon
1. Amber Stull, 1:08:49; 2. Shannon Donley, 1:08:56; 3. Danelle Winn, 1:11:24; 4. Larrell Lockard, 1:12:04; 5. Erin Beam, 1:12:52; 6. Lori Deschamps, 1:12:59; 7. Beth Zirbes, 1:13:17; 8. Jenny Kimball, 1:13:37; 9. Martha Marlow, 1:13:53; 10. Natasha Bergt, 1:14:27.