Steely determination

Kenney competing against only men in Ironman Triathlon

July 22, 2006|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

Two weeks ago, Hollie Kenney made the first Philadelphia Women's Triathlon a personal showcase, leading from start to finish and winning by more than five minutes while competing strictly against her own gender.

That race was a final tuneup for the challenge she confronts tomorrow.

Because of a quirky set of circumstances, the Lutherville woman will be testing the most proficient triathletes in the world in the Ironman USA Lake Placid Triathlon. All will be men's professionals.

"It will probably be the only time this will ever happen," said Kenney, 33. "They're calling me the Michelle Wie of triathlon."

Ironman spokeswoman Helen Manning said Kenney signed on for the race without knowing there would not be a women's pro division. "The race chairman later told her she'd have to race with the men," Manning said.

Kenney entered last July. In January, the decision was made to confine the professional racing to men.

"My entry fee was in and we had already planned to go to New York with 20 of my immediate friends," she said. "At first, they told me I couldn't race, but I persevered and talked my way back in. I kind of fell through the cracks. It was an accident. The chairman told me I could race as long as I beat some of the men."

Kenney has no illusions about dominating the event, composed of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of bicycling and a 26.2-mile run, the classic marathon distance. She has completed the grueling demands of the Ironman four times, including twice in the world championships in Kona, Hawaii (finishing fifth and seventh in her age groups).

But now she is confronting male champions in an impressive international field.

"If some of the men aren't having a great day, I might be able to beat them," she said. "But I'm not going to let it distract me if I'm way behind. I like to triathlon in general, so more or less being out there with them is the important thing. We're always fighting ourselves to cross that finish line."

A veteran of more than 100 triathlon events, Kenney graduated from Dulaney High in 1990 after becoming the first person in school history to win 12 varsity letters (four years of cross country, indoor track and outdoor track under coach Bob Dean).

She was inducted into the Dulaney Athletic Hall of Fame last November, an event she couldn't attend because she was competing in an Ironman event in Florida.

Her interest in triathlons was ignited as an undergraduate at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh -- where she earned 12 more varsity letters -- and turned serious about 10 years ago. By 1997, Kenney was competing in such events as the United States Nationals and the Ironman World Championships.

Single, she maintains a demanding regimen of training locally in the warmer months and in the Tampa, Fla., area during colder weather here, baby-sits for friends, is editor and publisher of a cycling magazine and is a certified USA Triathlon coach who tutors younger athletes on-line.

As a pro, she also profits from backing from sponsors such as PowerBar and Mizuno. She has coached cross country, track and swimming at Johns Hopkins and swimming at the Maryland Athletic Club and Wellness Center.

"It's my 16th season, and I don't have kids, anything to take me away from being able to compete," she said. "Ultimately, I may have children, and it wouldn't be fair to the family to continue.

"I've done pretty much everything I've wanted in triathlon. I'm content and can walk away when the time comes. My friends don't believe it, but your legs take a beating and I've never taken any time off."

She did take off six weeks after having a uterine tumor removed. She considers coming back from that layoff and finishing 13th overall in the Ironman in Panama City, Fla., last November one of her top performances.

A self-evaluation: "I don't have any one real strong area, but I don't have a real weakness in any, either. Some good runners can't swim; some good swimmers can't run. I think I'm good in all three, but not great in any of them. That's an advantage in some ways."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

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