Saturday’s 13.5-mile Tri-Flake Winter Triathlon featured a slew of competitors who ran, biked and skied their way through Kincaid Park.
For one racer, the triathlon was more than an opportunity to compete — it was a chance to honor a family friend.
Kimee Armour had no intention of ever coming to Alaska — not even for a visit. She hates the cold. She gets enough winter at her home in central Illinois, she said.
Armour competes in triathlons, duathlons, aquathlons and aquabike races across the world alongside her friend Billie Pate, who is 73. However, the Tri-Flake race was her first winter triathlon and one she dedicated to a close family friend who died unexpectedly late last year.
Gearing up for the biking leg of the race, the 52-year-old Armour was dressed in American flag leggings and bright pink gloves. She placed her hand over her heart and patted a laminated memorial and photograph of Lauren Hoffman that was adhered to her purple vest with safety pins.
Armour became friends with Lauren’s mother Melissa Hoffman. The two women had shared experiences. Both of their daughters had special needs and the two mothers supported each other.
Lauren, who was 24, competed in track events for Special Olympics. She was an avid walker and everyone in her neighborhood knew her, said Armour. She radiated joy and would include anyone on her walks who wanted to join.
“If you were out, she would walk with you,” said Armour.
Armour said Lauren would have thought she was bonkers for coming up to Alaska in the winter to compete.
At the funeral a week before the triathlon, Armour asked Hoffman’s family if she could dedicate her race to Lauren.
“I just looked at (Melissa), I said, ‘She didn’t have her last race yet,’ ” Armour said.
Despite being an experienced athlete, the race was a physical challenge. Armour had never been on a fat-tire bike and the last time she was on skis was more than three decades ago.
At the beginning of the 1.8-mile ski leg, she crashed on an early downhill and after getting untangled, realized her binding broke. The only option besides disqualification was to pick up her skis and poles and start toward the finish line on foot. Armour ran and walked to complete the leg, the final of three.
“There’s times where it’s like, ‘This sucks really bad, but there’s no reason not to finish,’ ” she said. “There wasn’t any time where I doubted that I would cross the finish line ... Nothing was gonna stop me.”
Armour completed the triathlon in 4 hours and 24 minutes, just as the sun went down.
“It meant a lot,” she said. “I whole-heartedly believe (Lauren) was watching me.”