After crossing the Tri-The-Kenai finish line Sunday, Kenai's Judith Abrahams had a bit of advice for other triathletes.
"Believe that you can do it," she said.
Eight months ago, when Abrahams had her right leg amputated just below the knee, she had to believe she could still compete in her favorite sport.
She had to believe she could take on the 500-yard swim.
She had to believe she could pedal the 10-mile bike race.
She had to believe she could run the five-kilometer course through Tsalteshi Trails.
"Your body can do amazing things -- you have just got to be patient with it and if it doesn't work, try something else," she said. "Eventually, you'll get to where you want to go, but you can't give up."
About five years ago, Abrahams, 37, was in a cycling accident that led to her amputation. She was on a training ride in Anchorage going down a hill about 40 mph when a teenager drove out into her path. She slid, and although her body didn't hit the car, the damage caused left her with five surgeries in three years.
Complications from the accident lingered for a long time, she said.
"It shattered my tibia and fibula just above my ankle joint and things didn't heal quite right to where I just couldn't be very weight-bearing on the foot, so the bones in my foot started to deteriorate," she said. "It was just one thing after another and I just couldn't do anything."
Abrahams, who had done several triathlons before the accident, wanted to get back into the sport, but found the hardest part was not rushing into it. She needed time to get used to the prosthetic. Tri-The-Kenai was perfect, she said.
"It is nice that it's local and pretty low-key so I could just start easing my way back into it again and do more as I'm able to get into shape and do more things," she said.
The biggest difference between her triathlons before the amputation and Saturday's event was figuring out how to transition from swimming to cycling, she said. She wasn't good at the transition before, but at least she has an excuse now, she said with a laugh.
"I can't quite do it the same way everyone else does," she said. "I was like, 'Hmm, where are they going to let me put my leg on?'"
In all about 220 people participated in third annual Tri-The-Kenai, up from 140 during the inaugural event, organizers said. The event included a youth competition and ten teams also took part in the race. A portion of the race's proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warriors Project and Central Peninsula Hospital cancer patients.
Jens Beck won the men's division with a time of 49 minutes 35.5 seconds. Jason Lamoreaux finished second in 52:41.4 and Luke Kiskaddon took third with 54:24.5.
Amber Stull took first in the women's division with a total time of 57:48.6, Lori Deschamps was second with 1 hour, 13 minutes, 19 seconds, and Martha Marlow was third with 1:13:19.
Michael Morris, a 58-year-old resident of Roanoke, Va., said the race was special to him -- No. 43 on his list of completing a triathlon in all 50 states.
"I've got three more states this month, two next month, one in August and I'll finish up in September in New Mexico," he said.
He said he started his goal about four years ago while reading a copy of USA Today. He flipped over to the state news section and started checking off all the states he'd done triathlons in before. He has been a triathlete for 28 years, he said.
"It was a great race, but I was just not in shape for it because we went to Denali and I haven't worked out since Saturday," he said. He added he thought the race was a bit chilly, but that's to be expected because he trains in the 90-degree Virginia weather.
Morris also wants to race in six of seven continents -- South America and Africa are his next two, he said.
"I'm not counting Antarctica," he said with a laugh.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Scanlon, 30, of Florida came across the finish line out of breath. Scanlon is stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
"I'm very, very tired," said Scanlon, adding it was his first triathlon. "It was harder than I anticipated."
He said he'd been cycling in preparation since the snow melted and his unit runs three times a week so naturally the swim was the hardest part.
"The bike I felt really good about and then I was getting cramps on the run," he said.
He joked that he was surprised the organizers found a way to put a hill on each portion of the course.
Soldotna resident Caitlin Martin, 28, said the cycling portion of the race gave her a headache.
"I don't have a nice street bike so everyone is zooming past me and I'm cranking and cranking up the hills and my chain fell off a couple of times on the big hill," she said. "The run was fun -- it's a gorgeous trail and I've never run it in the summertime. I enjoyed it."
Caitlin's brother David, a 29-year-old Nikiski resident who has done several triathlons also, congratulated her as she crossed the finish line. Both agreed they liked the course and feel of the event.
"I like this race a lot more because it seems to be more fun and relaxed," David said. "It is not so supercompetitive."
Said Caitlin: "It is a great way to get out and enjoy Alaska with the people you know in the community. It is a good weekend pastime. And, you know, it keeps us in shape."
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.