Donley hits pause on quest for record 9th Gold Nugget title

Beth Bragg
Second place finisher Kikkan Randall, left, congratulates race winner Shannon Donley during the Gold Nugget Triathlon at Bartlett High in Anchorage on Sunday, May 15, 2011. BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

One of the Gold Nugget Triathlon's greatest competitors is conceding defeat as she heads into Sunday's 31st running of the popular women's race.

Eight-time champion and two-time runnerup Shannon Donley will for the first time race among the masses, eschewing her enviable spot in the first wave, reserved for the fastest racers, so she can dive into action later with 11-year-old daughter Quincy, who is making her Gold Nugget debut.

Donley, 42, said she will let Quincy set the pace.

And if the two find themselves in a sprint to the finish line at Bartlett High, will she let Quincy win?

"I think I probably will," Donley said.

Donley, whose last victory came in 2011, led by more than a minute last year until a flat tire ended her race. At the time, she was fired up to make amends for the setback and make a run at a record ninth title this year.

Even when Quincy, a fifth grader at Inlet View Elementary, decided to enter the race, Donley figured she could go out at 9 a.m. with the other top seeds and be done in time to do the 500-yard swim, 12-mile bike and 4.1-mile racer again later in the morning with Quincy.

Then came a mysterious hip injury that has limited the amount of running Donley can do.

"I hemmed and hawed," she said, before finally making a decision to forego a competitive race.

Now that the decision has been made, Donley said she's looking forward to being part of the crowd rather than one of the frontrunners.

"It'll be a good perspective for me to soak it all up and see what it's all like," said Donley, a member of the Gold Nugget board of directors.

Donley saw the other side of racing once before, when she did Mount Marathon with a friend whose goal was to finish and have fun. That put Donley, whose accomplishments include a couple of top-five finishes in the rugged mountain race in Seward, closer to the back of the pack than the front of it.

"All these people were chatting and taking pictures," she said. "It was a whole 'nother experience."

And so will taking a leisurely approach to the Gold Nugget on Sunday -- although Quincy may have something to say about that. At the Salmon Run 5-kilometer run earlier this month, she placed second in a field of 243 girls and women.


Anchorage triathlete Judy Abrahams will take on Sunday's Gold Nugget Triathlon with a prosthetic leg, but she won't be the first person to do so.

In 2008, at least two amputees competed -- 10-year-old Taylor Haines, the youngest racer in the field that year, and a women who passed Haines near the end of the race.

Haines, now an East High sophomore, became an amputee when she was 10 months old, said mother Liz Wilson, who did the 2008 race with Haines.

"Taylor was proud of being the youngest competitor," Wilson said in an email. "It was never about her leg."

Wilson said that year's race featured at least one other amputee.

"Toward the end of the four-mile run, another amputee passed us," she said. "This woman was an above-knee amputee and was not even wearing a prosthesis -- she was taking huge leaps with crutches and had biked one-legged.

"... We did not learn the woman's name, but she encouraged Taylor as she flew past us."

Haines, whose other mother is 1980 Olympic skier Betsy Haines, competed in several Eagle River Triathlons as a little girl and tried a couple of sports in middle school. She has been in Dance Contempo the last two years at East.

"For Taylor, who is also missing both cruciate ligaments in her knee, dancing is proving to be the most demanding sport yet," Wilson said.


The Gold Nugget is famous for inspiring thousands of girls and women to become triathletes.

Of the 1,646 racers registered, 559 are first-time triathletes. (Though registration closes once 1,500 girls and women have signed up, "we also donate some of our racer slots," Gold Nugget board president Sheila Swanson said.)

Some other facts supplied by Swanson:

The field spans three generations -- the oldest two racers are 76 and the youngest two are 9. There are eight three-generation entries, and there are 265 participants on mother-daughter teams.

Gold Nugget triathletes don't just live in Anchorage. This year racers are coming from Auke Bay, Big Lake, Chugiak, Delta Junction, Dutch Harbor, Eagle River, Fairbanks, Girdwood, Glennallen, Haines, Homer, Indian, Juneau, Kenai, Kodiak, Nikiski, North Pole, Palmer, Seldovia, Seward, Soldotna, Sutton, Valdez, Wasilla and Willow.

Racers from nine other states are entered.


Parking for racers and spectators is at Tikahtnu Commons, across the street from Bartlett. Those with handicapped stickers can park at the high school.

The race begins at 9 a.m. and runs pretty much all day, with racers starting in waves due to limited capacity in the pool.

Last year, the last swimmer left the pool at 3:50 p.m., the last biker dismounted at 4:58 p.m. and the last runner crossed the finish line at 6 p.m., Swanson said.

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.

Gold Nugget Triathlon champions

2013 -- Amber Stull

2012 -- Amber Stull

2011 -- Shannon Donley

2010 -- Shannon Donley

2009 -- Shannon Donley

2008 -- Lori Deschamps

2007 -- Lori Deschamps

2006 -- Shannon Donley

2005 -- Kikkan Randall

2004 -- Shannon Donley

2003 -- Lori Deschamps

2002 -- Shannon Donley

2001 -- Shannon Donley

2000 -- Shannon Donley

1999 -- Lisa Keller

1998 -- Rachel Steer

1997 -- Alice Godfred

1996 -- Laurie Abrams

1995 -- Laurie Abrams

1994 -- Laurie Abrams

1993 -- Alice Godfred

1992 -- Alice Godfred

1991 -- Trudy Ferguson

1990 -- Trudy Ferguson

1989 -- Alice Godfred

1988 -- Alice Godfred

1987 -- Trudy Ferguson

1986 -- Alice Godfred

1985 -- Alice Godfred

1984 -- Alice Godfred