When Jennie Donofrio Hansen walked around Lake Placid early last week, people stopped her on the street. They wanted to have their picture taken with her and asked for her autograph.
When she returned home to Rochester, it was business as usual for the physical therapist, her superstardom left back in the Adirondacks.
“It was pretty crazy up in Placid and it was cool to feel like a celebrity for a day,” Hansen said. “Now I’m home and back to reality.”
And while the fanfare may have died down, the title is something that stays. Hansen was the overall female winner of the 2013 Ironman Lake Placid on July 28, her first title since turning pro last year. Hansen is a 2007 graduate of the University at Buffalo, where she ran on the Bulls’ track and cross country teams.
Hansen, who finished second at the event last year, won the race this year with a time of 9 hours, 35 minutes and 6 seconds.
She came out of the water 11 minutes behind after swimming the 2.1-mile course in Mirror Lake in 1:03:16.
“The swim for me actually was pretty much the best swim I ever had in my life,” Hansen said. “I was just 11 minutes behind and on the bike, I put my head down and went out.
“On the bike, there are a couple of out-and-backs on the course, so you get some idea of where you are. I could tell I wasn’t losing ground, but I couldn’t tell if I was really gaining ground. I knew with the run coming up, if I could keep in striking distance, I was in a good position.”
She finished the 112-mile bike portion in 5:20:25, putting her eight minutes behind the race leaders, Dede Griesbauer and Carrie Lester.
“The last five miles of the bike, all of a sudden I wasn’t feeling so great,” Hansen said. “I had done enough training to know that that I’d be tired when I got off the bike, but once I got on the run I would feel OK. I started out easy and eased into it. I got my legs back underneath me and gels and fluids in me.
“The course starts out downhill a bit then there is a long out-and-back where there aren’t a lot of people. I started to feel good. I concentrated on keeping my own pace. I didn’t want to burn out too early to try and catch up. I knew that wouldn’t work out well.”
But as she settled into her pace, she took the lead at the 12-mile mark and continued to run the fastest marathon split of the day, finishing the 26-mile course in 3:05:04.
“It’s a totally different ball game,” Hansen said of winning. “I thought I was prepared. I came in second before and was thrilled to finish that high, but I was prepared for what it was like to win. Triathlon is such a small sport. So many people come up and congratulate you when you win. It’s just hard to describe.”
Hansen graduated from Buffalo with a degree in exercise science and continued in the doctoral program in physical therapy. It wasn’t until an injury in 2009 put her on a cross-training regimen of cycling and swimming that she decided it was time to put her energy into triathlon. She started with smaller distances, taking three years before moving up to the Ironman distance and qualifying for her pro card.
“One of the main things I love about the sport are the people,” Hansen said. “Everyone is always so supportive of each other and that’s a lot of fun. I’ve been competing in running since I was 12. It’s always been a part of my life and just who I am. I want to go out and push myself and see what I can do.”
Hansen will see what she can do in a few weeks when she races in the Ironman Mont Tremblant in Quebec on Aug. 18 in hopes of gaining a slot to race in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Athletes qualify for the race slots based on points accumulated throughout the season, and Hansen is on the bubble.
“There are seven spots left that are up for grabs,” Hansen said. “We’ll see what happens.”