Joy Ripslinger rules.
With the horizon nearing on her college career at Arkansas, Ripslinger capped a remarkable career in Iowa on Saturday at the Quad-City Times Bix 7.
The nine-time state track champion and Iowa Gatorade track athlete of the year cruised to the finish line, winning the Isle Casino Beat the Elite challenge.
Ripslinger finished the race in approximately 31 minutes, 6 seconds, 1:47 faster than men's elite champion Sam Chelanga. She's the 11th winner in the 14th year of the event. Last year, the event had two participants with a corporate challenge that didn't take place this year.
"I never thought I'd be in this position, and I probably never will again. It's definitely the opportunity of a lifetime and I'll remember it forever," the Assumption High School grad said. "It's been a fun ride. I owe so many thank yous to my coaches, my teammates, my family and friends, all of which are here and cheering me on. It means so much."
Ripslinger received a 2.25-mile head start along the 7-mile course, but unlike all those track meets of her past, this was a different experience. She started on a quiet stretch at the bottom of Kirkwood Boulevard and never knew how much of a lead she had once the race started.
Though she won in dominating fashion, there were points where even her biggest fans weren't sure of her fate.
When Ripslinger was at the 5-mile mark, her lead had been cut to under 2 miles, and when she was heading down the Brady Street hill, the elite runners had turned onto Brady Street.
"There was a little bit of tension there," her father, Joe Ripslinger, said. "I thought she had a pretty good lead but just the fact they were both heading down Brady Street, the announcers kind of made it seem a little closer than it was, trying to increase the excitement, but that was fun."
Once Joy turned onto 3rd Street, there was little doubt and she crossed the finish line well before any of the elite runners reached the final stretch. As she drew ever closer to the end, the cheers grew louder and louder in support of the hometown high school standout who got her start running in what was known as the Alcoa Jr. Bix 7 so many years ago.
"Coming around that corner, the crowd was incredible. That's what got me through," she said. "The Bix is a very special thing in this community. It's one of my favorite things that happens here. The community aspect, everyone banding together and all the fun and the running, of course. I love running.
"I hope I can come back and, hopefully, for many more years I'll be back and running."
Because of NCAA regulations, Ripslinger donated the $2,500 prize to two different organizations. One is the Assumption track team, the other a foundation known as Brittany's Gifts, a local organization founded in honor of Brittany Manders, who passed away in 2008 of a seizure disorder.
The organization supports the Handicapped Development Center and the Davenport North YMCA.
"I'm so happy that I can do that. I never thought I could give back in that way," Ripslinger said. "It's so cool I'm able to to do that and give them a thank you in that way."
The Manders family are neighbors and friends of the Ripslingers, and were all on hand to cheer on Joy, each holding a sign that spelled out "Go Joy."
"It means a lot," said Jeff Manders, Brittany's father. "Brittany used to take Joy and (sister Rose Ripslinger) underneath her wing and she used to call them her two angels. Now, I guess she's Joy and Rose's angel, too. So it means a lot to our family."