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Off bikes since a painful childhood crash, a 24-year-old learns to ride again for the Gold Nugget Triathlon

  • Author: Joey Carreon
  • Updated: May 17
  • Published May 16

Danielle Essary, 24, a first-year English teacher at Dimond High School, had to learn how to ride a bike after winning an ASD entry to participate in the Gold Nugget Triathlon on Sunday. Essay said she learned to ride a bike in the driveway of her parents Eagle River home after not riding a bike since she was 9-years-old. (Bill Roth / ADN)

People often say “it’s like riding a bike” when referring to things you never forget how to do.

But for 24-year-old Danielle Essary, that saying likely hasn’t held the same sentiment until less than a month ago when she taught herself how to ride a bike for the Gold Nugget Triathlon.

Essary, an English teacher at Dimond, hasn’t ridden a bike for more than 15 years when a bad crash ruined biking for her.

“I think the last time I rode a bike — ever — was when I was very young,” Essary said. “I remember I crashed hardcore and hit a curb. I was wearing a helmet but I still ended up cutting my head and knocking myself out and I swore it off since then.”

However, seeing last year’s Gold Nugget Triathlon participants in action was enough to get Essary to give biking another go.

“We were driving into town last year for lunch to run errands and we drove by the hundreds of women biking on the side of the highway. I asked my partner what that was about and he said it was the Gold Nugget ... he explained what it was to me and I said ‘Oh that sounds awesome I’m gonna do that next year.’

And he joked, ‘Maybe you ought to learn how to ride a bike first,’ " Essary said.

The Gold Nugget Triathlon is an annual all-woman race that sees over a thousand participants — with online registration filling up within minutes.

All 1,600 slots for this year’s 37th Gold Nugget Triathlon taking place Sunday filled up in just under 20 minutes. Essary was able to secure her spot thanks to the Anchorage School District holding a raffle for free entry that would have otherwise been extremely difficult to obtain online.

Normally people learn how to swim for the triathlon, according to Gold Nugget board member Shannon Donley. But she has never heard of anyone having to learn how to ride a bike in preparation for the Gold Nugget.

“Certainly people step it up and train for the Gold Nugget to increase their biking skill, but I don’t know anybody that’s literally learned how to bike for the event," Donley said.

Danielle Essary, 24, competed in the Bike for Women as training for the Gold Nugget Triathlon. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Donley and Essary met at a Beginner Gold Nugget Clinic that Donley was teaching at REI.

“She said she’d never ridden a bike or done any of the events related to swimming, biking, or running and she’s learning it all just for the 2019 Gold Nugget.”

Essary mentioned feeling welcome at the clinic despite having little to no prior experience.

“(Donley) was so helpful and so patient with all of us. It was nice being able to go in feeling like such an outsider with no idea what you’re doing and they still made you feel welcomed."

Essary has no running background and her only experience with competitive sports being two years of basketball in high school, but she does know how to swim.

Less than a month ago, she borrowed an Element road bike from her boyfriend’s mother and began the process of relearning how to ride a bike in her driveway with her boyfriend’s help — making astounding progress since then.

“I feel like it was the same experience everyone has where you don’t want whomever’s teaching you to let go,” Essary said. “It was funny because the neighborhood kids kept riding their bikes by me while I was in the front yard and I was making sarcastic comments about how they were all judging me."

On May 5 Essary participated in the Bike for Women, an annual 9-mile fundraising race, after being urged to by her boyfriend’s mother — seeing it as the perfect practice opportunity.

“My goal was to finish and i actually came in at 47 minutes, 47 seconds which was impressive for it being my sixth time on a bike,” Essary said.

In terms of the Gold Nugget, Essary wants to use it as a means of exercising more and getting involved with the community.

“I’ve seen how incredibly supportive and amazing the women that run this are," Essary said.

And Donley hopes that future participants take after Essary and her choice to leap into uncertainty for the sake of self-betterment.

“The cool thing is she’s a teacher, so hopefully she can inspire some of her students to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.” Donley said. “I hope it will get other people who think they could never do a triathlon to be inspired and give it a try in the future."

Danielle Essary, 24, wants to use the Gold Nugget Triathlon it as a means of exercising more and getting involved with the community.(Bill Roth / ADN)

Race details

The 37th annual Gold Nugget Triathlon will start at Bartlett High School’s pool Sunday at 9 a.m.

The first leg of the triathlon is swimming 500 yards, or 10 laps in the pool, the second leg is a 12-mile bike ride, and the final leg is a 3.5-mile run with a shuttle back to Bartlett.

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