Anne Gonzales always has been one to dive in and embrace challenges.
She was at the starting line in the 2006 Leadville Trail 100 a mere five months after undergoing her final surgery for complications related to a 2004 hysterectomy. In the years since, she has distinguished herself as one of the top female mountain bikers in the country.
In 2009, she captured gold at 2009's International Cycling Union Mountain Bike Masters World Championships in France.
She was on top of the world again Oct. 28 in Maui. The 51-year-old Aspen Mountain ski patroller bested 11 athletes in her age group to win the XTERRA World Championship off-road triathlon.
Gonzales' time of 3 hours, 13 minutes was second-best among all amateur female competitors.
"It was a big event, and there were so many people from so many different countries being represented," Gonzales said. "I was pretty excited and thrilled to be a part of the whole thing."
Her latest foray into triathlons came about by pure happenstance, Gonzales said. She was watching Outside Television earlier this year and stumbled across a program chronicling the XTERRA series.
Her interest was piqued.
"I remember thinking, 'That's something I want to do,'" Gonzales recalled. "I put a game plan together and went for it.
"I had an old history for running when my kids were little - that's how I stayed fit. I hadn't run in like eight years, but I figured I could pick it up. And as a kid growing up, I could swim. I figured this would be a huge challenge, but it could be really fun. The next chapter began."
She began training in mid-February and entered her first race in June in Moab, Utah. Gonzales finished second among female competitors and first in her age group.
One month later, she won her division and finished seventh in a field of top professionals at a regional competition at Beaver Creek.
"That was pretty exciting, probably my best race to that point," Gonzales said. "I was surprised I was that successful, but it was really exciting."
That string of impressive performances continued in September's nationals at Snowbasin Resort in Utah, where she wound up 10th overall. By virtue of another first-place finish in her division, Gonzales secured her spot in the world championships in Hawaii.
She didn't give the opportunity a second thought.
"I figured, 'You know what, I've never been to Maui. I'm going,'" she said. "As far as expectations, I set them high. I wanted to win that division again and wanted to be one of the top amateur athletes. My highest over-the-top goal was that it'd be great if I finish in the top 15 overall. I wound up 16th, so I was actually pretty proud of that."
A tsunami warning on the eve of the race forced those on Maui's northwest shore to evacuate and head for higher ground.
While the threat did not materialize, competitors had to contend with fierce ocean swells during the race's first leg - a 1.5-kilometer swim at D.T. Fleming Beach Park in which competitors had to negotiate two buoys with a quick beach run in between.
"It was like a washing machine in the water," Gonzales recalled. "My husband has pictures of people just getting tossed around out there. It was like mayhem. I'm not afraid of the ocean, and I know how to dive under a wave, but I lost my goggles and have a whole lot of hair, so my cap didn't want to stay on my head.
"You just had to put your head down and go."
Gonzales emerged from the water in 28:06 - tops in her group - and hopped on the bike for a 18.89-mile jaunt covering more than 3,000 vertical feet in the West Maui Mountains.
"It was my best event but the one I had the most difficulty with. It was funny," Gonzales said. "I was climbing and fell off my bike twice. It was nothing big - I wasn't going very fast - but I did get covered in red dirt.
"It had some of the steepest, punchiest climbs I've ever done in a race. Sometimes it was really hot when you'd leave the coast and be around a volcano where it's dry and there's no vegetation. Then, we climbed high enough to get into the ferns and the trees. We changed climate zones, and it was fabulous."
Gonzales, who finished the leg in 1:54:20, learned she was third among amateurs heading into the 5.9-mile run, which took place mostly on dirt singletrack.
"The two girls ahead of me, one was 17 and the other was 18. That cracked me up," she said. "These girls were amazing and have huge futures ahead of them. I was able to catch one of them, but the other (Hannah Rae Finchamp, of Altadena, Calif.) was just way too fast. She was out there."
Finchamp crossed the finish line in 3:05.55. A division crown was a welcome consolation prize for Gonzales.
The good news didn't stop there.
"On top of this whole thing, I found out I'm going to be a grandmother. My son and daughter-in-law texted me," Gonzales said. "This has been the best two weeks of my life."