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A moose family, a black bear and hundreds of female triathletes. Just another Sunday in Anchorage.

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: May 21
  • Published May 20

Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming had finished her race and was back at Bartlett High, dressed in clean clothes and ready to report for her shift as a Gold Nugget Triathlon volunteer, when she learned she was the race winner.

She reacted to the news with a blank look and a bit of disbelief. Confirmation eventually came via an announcement on the loudspeaker.

"I'm astounded," the 46-year-old said.

Mohwinkel-Fleming shared the spotlight at the 35th annual triathlon with a cow moose that bluff-charged bikers and cops as it protected  newborn twins.

Police were called to the scene along the southbound Glenn Highway on Sunday morning and spent much of the day playing defense against the agitated moose, which stood with its calves just a few yards away off the bike path. Police used a patrol car as barricade between beasts and bikers.

Mohwinkel-Fleming was a bit of a beast herself, coming from the second wave of starters to capture her first championship and snatch victory from the woman who crossed the finish line first.

Amber Stull, a three-time champion, appeared to have claimed her fourth victory in the all-female race when she beat Summer Ohlendorf to the finish line at Centennial Park by 14 seconds.

As Stull and Ohlendorf were being interviewed by the media, Mohwinkel-Fleming crossed the finish line with a winning time of 1 hour, 4 minutes, 7 seconds.

She eclipsed Stull's time of 1:04:44 by 37 seconds.

Mohwinkel-Fleming began her 500-yard swim at the Bartlett High pool about eight minutes after the race's top-seeded athletes did. By the time she reached the second transition she owned the fastest time, and she maintained her lead through the final leg, a 3.5-mile run.

About 1,400 girls and women finished the race, the nation's oldest all-female triathlon.

Lia Keller passes  a cow moose protecting her newborn calves along the Glenn Highway during Sunday’s race. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Many got a close but quick view of the moose and calves, which were standing between the JBER gate and Arctic Valley Road. The moose were on the highway side of a chain-link fence that parallels the bike path.

Ohlendorf, a 31-year-old from Wasilla, had taken the lead from Stull, 40, about halfway through the 12-mile bike leg when the aggravated mother moose interrupted her progress.

"I saw her (when I was) driving in from Wasilla," Ohlendorf said. "I said, 'I hope they're on the other side of the fence.' "

She learned otherwise as she pedaled toward them during her race.

"She started charging me," Ohlendorf said. "I slowed down and (a policeman) said, 'Just go, just go!' "

Stull, who was right behind, didn't slow down and was able to seize the lead.

"I just took advantage," she said. "I've been around moose a lot on mountain bikes, and I felt I had enough speed.

"I actually scared off a bear after the moose."

The black bear was spotted at a couple of locations, including Arctic Valley Road near the bike-to-run transition. Race volunteers used an air horn to keep it at bay, and eventually it disappeared into the woods.

Bears and moose are frequently spotted during the Gold Nugget Triathlon, but in 35 years the race has happened without incident.

This year the chief concern for race organizers was an inanimate object – the new Muldoon interchange. The complicated link between Muldoon Road and the Glenn Highway forced them to move the finish line out of the Bartlett parking lot to Centennial Park, which in turn required racers to take a shuttle bus from the finish line back to Bartlett.

Mohwinkel-Fleming didn't have time to tarry at the finish line, because she was scheduled to start her volunteer shift back at Bartlett. She caught the first shuttle bus back to the high school.

Mohwinkel-Fleming is a Gold Nugget veteran and one of the state's best bikers, but until Sunday she had only made it into the Gold Nugget's top 10 once. She finished fourth in 2004, and in her most recent appearance, in 2016, she finished 11th.

Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming won her first Gold Nugget Triathlon on Sunday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

She swam competitively at Dimond High and St. Cloud State and has been an elite bike racer for many years – her husband, Bill Fleming, is the owner of Anchorage's Trek bike store. But a bum knee limits how much she can run.

Mohwinkel-Fleming said she could have competed with the seeded runners but she chose not to, partly to reduce the pressure that can come with being a top seed.

As a result, she quickly built a big lead over other racers who started after the top-seeded racers completed their swims. She said she didn't see many people at the beginning of her bike ride but started catching them after a few miles.

"I had the course to myself for awhile, and I enjoyed that time-trial aspect of it," she said.

Several minutes ahead of Mohwinkel-Fleming, a fierce battle was being waged between Stull and Ohlendorf.

Three-time champion Amber Stull swims in the Bartlett pool en route to a second-place finish. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Stull was bidding for her first title in four years. She won three in a row from 2012-14 before her reign was ended by Kinsey Laine of Fairbanks, who claimed three straight wins before moving out of state.

Stull, who finished second in 2017 and 2015 and third in 2016, is always strong on the bike, and she said her running has improved over the last year. But even so, she was happy she was on her bike when she saw the black bear.

"He was on the frontage road on the pavement, playing with an orange caution flag and then he saw me and jumped down and dashed off," she said.

"I have never seen so much wildlife in this race. I'd rather be on a bike than on foot."

Ohlendorf, a Gold Nugget rookie, said she has gotten used to seeing moose since she moved to Alaska about three years ago to work for the Tsunami Warning Center. But she had never before been so close to an aggressive moose with calves.

She was good-humored about losing the lead to Stull when the encounter happened. "At least I didn't get attacked by a moose," she said.

Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming nears the finish line. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Ohlendorf was part of a top 10 that featured racers ranging in age from 15 to 50. Fifty-year-old Danelle Winn finished ninth, sandwiched between two 15-year-olds – eighth-place Alyssa Hargis of West Linn, Oregon, and 10th-place Quincy Donley, the daughter of eight-time champion Shannon Donley.

For Winn, the performance marked the 10th year in a row she has finished in the top 10.

The age range is one of the things that makes the Gold Nugget a special race – it embraces young and old, fast and slow, big and small. It's such a popular race that it reaches its capacity of 1,600 racers within minutes after online registration begins.

Sunday's triathletes were as young as 9 and as old as 87. One of the 9-year-olds was Dara Stull, Amber Stull's daughter. Among those racing in the 75-79 age group was Mohwinkel-Fleming's mom, 77-year-old Diane Mohwinkel.

Top 10 (unofficial)

1. Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming 1:04:07, 2) Amber Stull 1:04:44; 3) Summer Ohlendorf 1:04:58, 4) Katelyn Stearns 1:05:14; 5) Emma Tarbath 1:05:50; 6) Stephanie Arnold 1:06:02; 7) Ellie Mitchell 1:07:13; 8) Alyssa Hargis 1:07:26; 9) Danelle Winn 1:07:45; 10) Quincy Donley 1:07:47.

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