SILVERTON – The biggest, loudest, longest ovation in the finish area at the annual Hardrock 100 on Saturday was reserved for the undisputed Princess Di of the Hardrock – Diana Finkel.
Defying more than running odds, Finkel won the women’s division of the Hardrock 100 for the fourth consective year Saturday morning, finishing in 29 hours, 27 minutes, 40 seconds.
Finkel also beat the medical odds by returning to competition after suffering a serious illness last year right after the tortuous 2010 Hardrock.
“I just wanted to finish and feel good this year,” Finkel said. “I wasn’t concerned about winning ... I just wanted to feel good.”
The mountain running icon from South Fork said she had to come back to the Hardrock after what happened in her historic runner-up finish to Jared Campbell of Utah in 2010.
“Last year, I got sick (at the end), and it was terrible,” said Finkel, who suffered extreme leg cramps that forced her to walk the final miles into Silverton.
“I was really mad at myself last year. I was angry at myself for not being aware of my body,” said Finkel, who finished, but barely.
Just days later, she was hospitalized with a serious kidney ailment.
Her running future appeared in doubt.
But just like the athlete tackles the climb up Handies Peak, Finkel rose to meet the medical challenge.
She recovered and returned home.
She eventually was cleared to return to running.
And finally, she was cleared to enter her beloved Hardrock 100 Endurance Run.
“Really, I’ve been lucky in my life,” Finkel said. “Something like that puts everything in perspective.”
During her recovery, she said, she kept thinking about the Hardrock 100.
“The Hardrock became more important because I love it. I love this race. I love these mountains. I love this community,” she said.
When she finally reached the finish chute Saturday afternoon, Finkel said she had one singular thought: “Redemption.”
Finkel also was among the first to congratulate women’s runner-up Darcy Africa of Boulder, who finished about 20 minutes later.
The two shared an embrace at the famed Hardrock finish rock, which runners kiss to complete the Hardrock experience.
“I really didn’t feel any pressure this year ... I wasn’t worried about being first,” said Finkel, who added she and Africa ran together early in the race.
“It was fun to be out there and run with another woman,” Finkel said.
Africa, like last year, finished second to Finkel.
And just as last year, Africa ran the final 20 yards with her toddling daughter Sophia.
They kissed the rock together.
“I couldn’t have done this without you guys,” Africa said to her family and crew members – the same message Diana Finkel delivered to the entire Hardrock community.