Wonder Women of the Decades

July 27, 2015

Inspiring Northwest Women Athletes

By Kris Parfitt


The Northwest is a hotspot for female athletes of all ages and abilities. We wanted to interview many of these women so we reached out to race directors and local athletic communities and received over 70 names of inspiring women athletes ranging from 18 to 81 years of age.

Sponsored by:

Sprint Triathlon/5k—August 23


It was challenging to cull such talented athletes down to just eight so we are going to continue the tradition of writing about Wonder Women of the Decades every year! Prepare to be inspired by our inaugural list of Northwest women!

Savannah Jones, 18

Savannah Jones, front, and Makenzie Sousley paddle a high kneel sprint canoe.

Gig Harbor, Washington
High Kneel Sprint Canoeist

“The relationships I have in this sport make even the worst workouts worth it.”

When I was 14, I saw the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club team paddling sprint canoes in the harbor and decided to try it out. It’s a unique sport where competitors kneel on one knee in a lunging position and paddle on one side. A sprint canoe is about a foot across at the widest spot, approximately 8-feet-long and weighs 12 kilograms.

I’ve competed twice in the Junior World Championships. In 2013 in Welland, Canada, my partner, Makenzie Sousley, and I placed fourth in the C2 (two person canoe) 500 meter under 18 event. In 2014 in Czeged, Hungary, we placed 11th in the same event.

My inspiration comes from my teammates; the relationships I have in this sport make even the worst workouts worth it.

Paloma Dinkel, 27

Paloma Dinkel takes a rest during a hike on Mount Rainier.

Seattle, Washington

“Being a swimmer changed my life, starting with learning to work hard for what I want.”

I started swimming at age nine in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico where I was raised. I was inspired by a female swimmer at the swim club who was trying to make the Olympics and I wanted to do the same thing. I am very thankful for my first summer league coach from Mexico who told me and my mom that I had potential. I joined a year-round swim club after that and the rest is history.

I placed third in the 100 meter freestyle at the 2003 Central American and Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation (CCAN). I also placed in the top four in the 50 and 100 meter in freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly in the 2012, 2012 and 2014 Long Course Masters Nationals.

Being a swimmer changed my life, starting with learning to work hard for what I want and I carry that with me in every aspect of my life.

I love the challenge and adrenaline of competing. During competition, I take a deep breath and think positively. When I’m training and feeling frustrated, I think about how I arrived at where I am now, or I think about things that upset me—both which often relight the fire!

Maria Carantit, 38

Maria Carantit runs the marathon stage of an Ironman. Photo courtesy of FinisherPix.com

Seattle, Washington
Ironman Triathlete

“Triathlons inspire me to push myself to limits I never thought possible.”

I swam competitively as a kid in Pembroke, New Hampshire, where I grew up. I was 31 when I joined a woman-focused triathlon club in Tucson, Arizona. I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon at age 34, my first half Ironman at 35, and at age 36 crossed the finish line of my first full-length Ironman.

The great thing about triathlons is you can compete in longer races by stepping up to Olympic and Ironman distances. Training is hard, but the rewards make up for all the effort. Triathlons inspire me to push myself to limits I never thought possible.

My coach once said “You can cry during the race, but you have to keep moving!” I remind myself that no matter how frustrated I might be, I need to keep moving. I also think it’s important to have a great support system—people you can reach out to for inspiration.

Heather Nelson, 43

Heather Nelson poses with her children who are her biggest inspiration.

Bellingham, Washington
Surfski Racing and Ultra-marathon Kayaking

“Racing…teaches and conditions our minds and bodies to get the most from our effort.”

I started swimming competitively when I was four in Belmont, California, and continued throughout college. In my twenties I was a competitive adventure racer for Team Subaru USA.

After I married Brandon Nelson in the late 1990s, we began successfully competing in ultramarathon kayak races together as a team and as individuals. We were introduced to surfski racing after we moved to Bellingham in 2003.

In 2006 I competed solo as a kayaker in the 460-mile Yukon River Quest and broke the woman’s course record by nearly 10 hours. I finished sixth overall and first place as a solo woman. This record still stands.

Racing is just a focus on efficiency. It teaches and conditions our minds and bodies to get the most from our effort and that translates to every aspect of life. My greatest inspirations are my kids and hearing them chanting, “Go Mama Go!” They put a smile on my face and extra power in my stroke!

Susan Fleenor, 50

Susan Fleenor comes in for a win at Dash Point State Park. Photo courtesy of Northwest Adventuring

Kenmore, Washington
Mountain Bike Racer

“Keep on riding, learning new skills and encouraging each other.”

I started mountain biking in the 1990s with my husband when we moved to Kenmore, Washington, from Hollywood, Florida. I took a break while having children and a career, returning to mountain biking in 2012.

“Dirt” quickly became my preference over road racing and in 2014 I competed in, and won, my first mountain bike race. One of my proudest moments was standing on the podium for seven out of the eight of the BuDu Mountain Bike race series over the course of four months, despite injury, travel, family and facing tough competition in each race.

My racing motto is “the body achieves what the mind believes,” and positive thoughts help me visualize success. There are three things that help me get out the door to train: I have a coach who holds me accountable, I have friends and a community of athletes to train with, and I keep the goal in sight knowing each daily effort made toward that goal pays off in the end. I encourage all riders to keep on riding, learning new skills and encouraging each other.

Liz Kellogg, 66

Liz Kellogg loves a good laugh especially after hearing a good story.

Portland, Oregon
Ultra Distance Trail Runner

“Distance running is all about ‘relentless forward motion.’”

I started long-distance running when I was 35. I trained with a group of women who raced 10K and marathon distances, but one other woman and I became hooked on trails and wanted to be out there longer. Trail running has become my favorite way to explore this amazing and varied country we live in. This particular kind of running is also a way to keep my reflexes sharp and my joints strong without the repetitive stresses of activities like road running.

I would sometimes win or tie when running marathons and 50 mile races when I was younger, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I placed as the “most senior” female finisher for the Cascade Crest 100 miler in Washington.

Andrea Malott, 70

Andrea Malott plays with her standard poodle Bernardo on Lake Washington.

Seattle, Washington
Rower and Triathlete

“Stay Focused”

I grew up in Fullerton, California. My father, Ray Malott, held the world’s record in the 440 yard dash in 1938. He is 98 and is still in good shape. My best strategy for maintaining this level of activity at my age is relentless injury-free conditioning. I am careful about weights during lunges and squats and shoulder workouts so that I can remain injury free.

The first race I stroked as the lead rower will always be my biggest accomplishment in this sport — I felt a great sense of responsibility setting the rhythm, pace and power of my crew. Racing at the Head of the Charles in Boston however is a close second!

Rowing requires strong mental focus. Your mind gets very busy monitoring each part of the stroke. During a race when the water gets rough and our blades are crashing around it’s paramount to stay focused on what’s going on inside the boat.

Barb Macklow, 81

Barb Macklow runs strong in the Baker Lake 50K in 2013. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Bellingham, Washington
Ultra Distance Trail Runner

“For all of us the clock ticks on and we need to use each day we have NOW.”

I was raised in Minnesota and settled in Washington state after college, getting married and having five children. However, sometime in my early fifties, after an accidental death of a daughter, a divorce and an empty nest, I started jogging for fitness.

I soon competed in my first triathlon and also joined a local running club. I found I preferred trail running to road races because, along with the pleasure  of being outside it was also a way of healing and coping with the traumas of death and divorce.

My two proudest accomplishments are when I finished as the oldest female at age 74 at the Umstead 100 miler in North Carolina, and the JFK 50 Mile Run in Maryland where I broke the record for the oldest woman’s finisher at age 76. By the way, these records still stand.

I’m thankful to be still running in my eighties, but I’m dealing with the usual problems of aging. But for all of us the clock ticks on and we need to use each day we have NOW.  We can’t go back. So I encourage you to take a risk, do your best and be happy with what you accomplish.