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Iron girls galore

A few months ago, my 41-year-old daughter announced she had registered for a triathlon. Her husband was incredulous — completely speechless — which is very rare for him.

This would be the daughter who had a first pregnancy at age 40 and gave birth to a 3-pound, 4-ounce baby six weeks early — a babe who spent weeks in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and several precarious early months of life. This is the same daughter who accepted a challenging administrative position, at which she excels, when her son was a year old. My daughter, whose mothering skills are as amazing as she is and who balances home life and a full-time job with an ever-present smile. Yes, that daughter.

From the moment of her announcement, Jenna was definite about competing in the Seattle Iron Girl Sprint Triathlon, which includes a third-mile early morning swim in Lake Washington, immediately followed by a hilly 12-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run.

Last weekend, with grandpa carrying 18-month-old Jordan in a metal-sided backpack and grandma and dad taking endless photos and cheering enthusiastically, she did it. And she did it well — completing the swim in less than 20 minutes and rolling out on her bike looking strong. She seemed a little wobbly on the return but launched right into the 3-mile run with a thumbs up sign.

Jenna crossed the finish line with a flourish, holding hands with her friend Kim who had catalyzed the idea of doing the tri together. Kim's husband is an army officer in Afghanistan, but he had assured there was a sign warmly acknowledging his wife, and he called her before the event with a little pep talk. My daughter's incredible husband, who had rearranged his own life and job to ensure child care for the baby while she trained, was there when she crossed the finish line — with a bear hug and a bottle of cold chocolate milk. Did you know that's supposed to be a good thing to drink to replenish energy at the end of strenuous exercise? Ever learning.

The entire day was a learning experience. More than 1,000 women participated in the event — in all shapes and sizes. They were fit and fat, young and old — all clearly pumped to be involved in a women-only challenge. When two 69-year-old women finished in an excellent time, the crowd roared as Olympic-type medals were placed around their necks. One young woman did a cartwheel as she crossed the finish line. One teenager burst into tears.

But something else was going on that day. Jenna's intention to participate had motivated her 17-year-old stepdaughter to want to do it too. Jen sponsored Jae in the race and helped her with training. My usually-very-persuasive daughter tried valiantly to arrange with event officials to have Jae start the swim in her group so she could stay supportive throughout, but the rules divided them by age.

My grand stepdaughter had made the decision to participate later than ideal for training purposes and had only a mountain bike, which would make the hills tough, but like Jenna, she caught the spirit and prepared with focus and intention. The entire family went from their Portland-based home to chilly Lake Washington the weekend before to do a practice swim. There is a video of that day — the lovely, soon-to-be Iron Girls wearing a look of high expectation — and maybe a little trepidation.

The actual triathlon lasted for hours. You could feel the flagging energy and see the fatigue written on the final participants as they ended their run. It was clear some had dropped out. The wait was long, and there were moments of concern — but Jae finished! She was the second from last girl to cross the line. Such a beatific smile on her face. She wore her medal all day. The smile, too.

I was so proud of all the participating women, not just the ones I call family. Women, not girls, testing their capacities and endurance. Helping themselves and each other be stronger. Bound together by gender and love.