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Ride, Judy, ride: a cyclist remembered

July 24, 1997

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Judy Flannery was training for a 3,000-mile bicycle race when an unlicensed teen-age driver hit and killed her on a winding Maryland road in April.

That race, the Race Across America, begins this weekend in Southern California. And Flannery’s spirit will not be lost in the punishing ride through the Death Valley desert and the Rocky Mountains.

Organizers have dedicated the event to the 57-year-old triathlete from Chevy Chase who was so modest that some acquaintances didn’t even know she held nine world triathlon titles and six U.S. triathlon championships.

Four of Flannery’s friends will ride as a team in her memory to raise money for driver education programs to teach motorists about sharing the road with bicyclists and athletes.

``It’s a responsibility and privilege to carry the spirit of Judy Flannery across the United States,″ said Lyn Brooks of Towson, a team member who has finished 17 Hawaiian Ironman triathlons, more than anyone in the world.

The race begins Sunday in Irvine, Calif. If all goes well, it will end for Flannery’s friends about a week later in Savannah, Ga.

Team Flannery is the only all-women’s team in the race. Brooks; Rita Simpson, Boulder, Colo.; Valerie Gattis, Louisville, Ky.; and Sally Edwards, Sacramento, Calif. _ all accomplished master triathletes _ will average 400 miles a day and hope to reach the finish line in 7 1/2 days.

They will be accompanied by a crew of 14, including a doctor, masseuse, cook and mechanic.

Flannery’s husband, Dennis, is to meet them at the finish line. One of their daughters, Erin, will travel with the team to make a documentary on the race.

``I know Judy would be flattered on one level, but she would also think all the attention was inappropriate. That’s just the kind of person she was,″ said Melissa Mearson, who served with Flannery on USA Triathlon, the sport’s national governing body.

Flannery had been training for the 16th annual Race Across America for about seven months when an unlicensed 16-year-old boy hit her head-on during a 55-mile training ride on a clear morning.

The boy’s father was riding in the passenger seat and had allegedly been drinking alcohol. Police said he apparently grabbed the steering wheel just before the crash.

The father, Ronald Rinehart, has pleaded innocent to charges of drunken driving and manslaughter. His trial begins Nov. 17. The son, Timothy Rinehart, will face charges in juvenile court.

Team Flannery hopes to raise thousands of dollars for driver education programs. Ultimately, they hope to set up a fund to construct safe places for athletes to train.

As the race approaches, the Flannery team members are trying not to think of the 200-mile desert ride or 11,000-foot mountain climb that awaits them. They muse about how Flannery would handle prerace jitters.

``This would have been a fun journey for her, a real adventure,″ Simpson said. ``She didn’t let races run her, she ran the races. She would have been a real riot to have along.″


Editors: Donations to Team Judy Flannery may be sent to the Rails and Trails Conservancy, 1100 17th St., N.W., 10th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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