With a win at the Bike for Women, Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming honors her late mother

Diane Mohwinkel was a dynamo, a woman who competed into her 80s and encouraged countless others to join along.

A regular at bike races and triathlons in Anchorage and beyond, Mohwinkel died last month at age 82. During last weekend’s annual Bike for Women, Mohwinkel was honored in a ceremonial start and posthumously awarded bib No. 1 for the race.

Her daughter Sheryl Mohwinkel-Fleming has also long been competing in races throughout Southcentral Alaska but hadn’t planned to participate in the Bike for Women this year. In the months leading up to it, Diane Mohwinkel signaled it may be her last time to ride in the race. The hills were getting tougher, she said, and it might be the last time the Anchorage mother-daughter duo could ride together.

Although her mom passed away less than a month before the Bike for Women, Mohwinkel-Fleming still rode in the race. Not only did she race, she won. It wasn’t until well after the race that a friend had alerted her that she’d charted the fastest time of 23 minutes, 41 seconds.

“At the start, I was holding back tears and thinking, ‘How’s this going to go? I can’t cry and bike at the same time,’” she said. “I was surprised, and it just felt very special to win on the year that she wasn’t there.”

As rewarding as the finish was, Mohwinkel-Fleming said the scene at the start was even more gratifying. Mohwinkel was known for her trademark blue race outfits, accompanied by blue mascara and often blue glitter.

“Everyone knew her from coming to races and dressing in bright colors and spreading joy, spreading all that glitter and happiness,” Mohwinkel-Fleming said. ”A lot of people wore blue jerseys or jackets or painted their nails blue.”


There was also a table with a banner for participants to sign and write down memories that would be collected into an album.

Once the fellowship at the starting line passed, Mohwinkel-Fleming found herself missing her mom on the course. They’d done the race together so many times, Mohwinkel-Fleming knew where they’d cross paths and would recognize her mom’s slow but steady cadence on the bike.

“And I would just shout out obnoxiously loud, ‘Go Mom,’” she said. “So I really missed that this year.”

Mohwinkel-Fleming initially competed as a swimmer and then as a triathlete during her college years. A knee injury led her to more bike-only events.

Her mother didn’t start getting serious until she was about 60, racing in her first Gold Nugget Triathlon. But once she got started, Diane Mohwinkel was hooked. She competed in the National Senior Games and World Triathlon Series. But she also was passionate about local races like the Bike for Women, which for the last decade has supported Let Every Woman Know-Alaska.

“She loved supporting women at all ages,” Mohwinkel-Fleming said. “And so people have gotten to know my mom through this event, the Golden Nugget, these women’s events. She really inspired a lot of people from young to her category, 80-84.”

Mohwinkel-Fleming said her mother’s advice to young athletes was “to be brave, regardless of how fast you are.”

That inspiration also extended to her family. As they raced side-by-side over the years, the two women were each other’s greatest supporter.

“My mom was always so proud of me and so many people told me that (Sunday), and I was always so proud of her for what she accomplished,” Mohwinkel-Fleming said. “So I know she would’ve been over-the-moon happy for me to win.”

Mohwinkel-Fleming initially hadn’t planned to race in another of her mom’s favorites, the Gold Nugget Triathlon, which is slated for May 19. She recently decided to compete and drew bib No. 66. She said in Diane’s final race, the USA Triathlon Nationals last summer in Milwaukee, her mom wore bib No. 6699.

“I’m going to do it now because I just thought that would be really special to do it with her number,” Mohwinkel-Fleming said.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.