Bobbi Galante was last to cross the finish line.
Most of the competitors were already lounging nearby, basking in their glory as Galante struggled to her feet in the surf. As she emerged, an entourage of complete strangers surrounded her with an eruption of jubilation. Her name was announced over the loudspeakers.
"Bobbi Galante. Naples, Florida."
Galante made her way through her tears and under the inflatable race finish line.
The 57-year-old New York City native was one of 877 competitors in the 26th annual Fitness Challenge Triathlon held June 3 at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. The mini triathlon consisted of a five-kilometer run and 15-kilometer bike ride through the surrounding neighborhoods followed by a quarter-mile swim in the Gulf in front of the hotel.
It is the reverse order of a regular triathlon. The competitors range from Iron Man triathletes to local amateurs like Galante.
Eleven did not finish the race this year.
Shaky and overcome with emotion, Galante barely made it 15 feet through the finish line chute when lifeguard Luis Gamboa called her to the side.
"You did it," he said as he stabilized her with a kiss to the forehead.
In the team of lifeguards, Gamboa oversaw all of the racers fighting through the demoralizing waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Realizing Galante was the final competitor, he followed her through the end.
"It is not about being last. It is about the road to get here," said Gamboa. "Last doesn't matter."
Further down the chute, several more of Galante's new fans waited to meet her, including Naples resident Kelly Capolino. The pair met at the first water station of the run when Capolino realized Galante needed a push.
"I grabbed the whole 5-gallon jug and went after her with her cup. I told her to keep going, don't stop," said Capolino.
Galante said she ran the New York City Marathon before moving to Naples 19 years ago and had previously competed in the Naples Fitness Challenge triathlon 11 years ago.
"Those are my two greatest feats," she said.
In the meantime, Galante said she gathered many personal reasons, including a couple unhealthy habits, that made her want to challenge herself to the race again.
"My birthday is June 19 and this was my birthday present to myself; to get back in shape. I felt like I needed to come full circle," she said.
Galante began to catch her breath as she and her new friends made their way toward the crowd on the hotel lawn where the competitors received their awards. Surrounded by her new entourage bubbling over with inspiration from her accomplishment, Galante blended into the crowd.
It was clear who had won this race.
Connect with David Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/david-albers.