As friends and family continued offering congratulations on a Gold Nugget Triathlon job well done, Stephanie Arnold gamely celebrated victory while ignoring the pressing, bookish tasks ahead.
Two years into work as a Pacific Northwest University medical school student, Arnold viewed Sunday morning’s combined 500-yard swim, 12-mile bike trek and 3.5-mile run as a joyous respite.
“My off day from studying,” said Arnold, who arrived back in her Anchorage hometown only one day before the annual race. “Everyone needs one of those.”
Arnold, 25, and her husband Andrew are a few weeks away from taking Step 1 Board exams at the school in Yakima, Wash. Andrew didn’t make the trip, opting to remain solely in study mode. Stephanie is about to get back to it.
“This is crunch time,” she said. “I’m going to enjoy the remainder of this off day as a volunteer (at the race) and hanging out with family. I’m then studying at home for a week before heading back for the final 10 or so days before the test.”
Arnold claimed the top spot one year after finishing sixth. She led the field of almost 1,600 racers by finishing the course in 1 hour, 1 minute and 44 seconds, eclipsing Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming’s victorious time of a year ago by more than two minutes.
Runner-up Mazzy Jackson finished in 1:05.01.
Triathletes began by swimming at the Bartlett High pool before biking and running around areas of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Mountain View. The Pena Sports Fields at Centennial Park hosted the finish line for the second consecutive year, rife with the pomp and circumstance of colorful balloons, inspiring music, a food truck, a photo booth and more.
“I’m totally surprised, because I really didn’t know what to expect,” Arnold said of her dominant performance. “I was just going hard. My dad always tells me to have fun and try your best. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Arnold was one of five racers to make the top 10 for the second straight year (Katelyn Stears, fourth, 1:05:32, Amber Stull, sixth, 1:07:04, Danelle Winn, eighth, 1:07:22 and Ellie Mitchell, 10th, 1:08:14).
A skier first and foremost during most of her athletic career, Arnold said medical school offered her a chance to recommit to biking.
“On the bike, I never felt better,” she said. “I love Yakima, but there is not a ton to do so Andrew and I have been biking way more.”
After completing the swim in 8:01, 71 seconds behind Jackson, Arnold crushed the bike ride. Her 31:53 split on the bike was 51 seconds faster than the next best top-20 finisher. She didn’t lose a step on the run, charging in at a 20:25 split. Jackson finished the run in 20:26.
“Switching gears is why I love the sport,” Arnold said. “Even though you may feel dead after the pool, you’re then on the bike doing something different. I was never much of a biker, so now I felt a lot stronger.”
The Gold Nugget is nearly 40 years old. Besides the camaraderie and power showcased by all types of female athletes -- young and old, seasoned triathletes to newcomers getting in better shape and accomplishing goals - the race is renowned for its location and brushes with Alaska nature. Reports soon after the top racers finished said a bear might have been spotted near the Moose Run Golf Course driving range.
Joleen White, a physical education teacher at Hanshew Middle School, finished 18th (1:10:24). Near the conclusion of the bike leg, she said the vehicle leading racers started going in reverse, making the “beep, beep” noise.
“I never saw a bear, but kind of figured that might be it,” White said. “I took a look around when I heard the reverse sign.”
Arnold finished first. Her sister Valerie Goulet earned 22nd place (1:10:40) and mother Tanya Kirk grabbed 61st place (1:21:45).
“A family event for sure,” Arnold said. “It’s a great excuse to come home when you race with your sister and mother. We’ve been doing it together for years.”
Arnold soon turns attention back to medical school and those upcoming exams.
She certainly aced the 2019 Gold Nugget.
“I don’t know what type of doctor I’ll be just yet,” she said. “I tell people I want to be a good doctor. ‘What kind of doctor do you want to be?’
“A good one.”
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
Gold Nugget Triathlon
Unofficial Top 10
1) Stephanie Arnold, 1:01:44; 2) Mazzy Jackson, 1:05:01; 3) Kristina Eaton, 1:05:21; 4) Katelyn Stearns, 1:05:32; 5) Teresa Ulrich, 1:05:57; 6) Amber Stull, 1:07:04; 7) Katie Green, 1:07:07; 8) Danelle Winn, 1:07:22. 9) Bri Lowen, 1:07:41; 10) Ellie Mitchell, 1:08:14.
Find complete results at https://runsignup.com/Race/Results/72104/#resultSetId-155530.