Flannery mourned by friends from coast to coast
Apr. 2, 1997

April 4, 1997

To her friends and fellow athletes, Judith Marie Flannery's death in a River Road car accident has robbed the world of a championship triathlete, loving mother of five and loyal community volunteer.

"A light has gone out,'' said Sharon Ackles by telephone from Kona, Hawaii. Ackles heads the Ironman Triathlon, the superbowl of triathlons, in which Flannery completed three times.

Steven Locke, executive director of U.S.A. Triathlon in Colorado Springs and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said the sport Flannery loved -- she won six U.S. and four world triathlon championships -- would suffer greatly without her.

"She's been in every world championship for years,'' said Locke.

The 57-year-old world class triathlete died instantly around 11 a.m. Wednesday when she was struck by a car on River Road in Seneca while biking on a 55-mile training ride with two friends.

Police said the car came around a curve, crossed the center of the road and hit Flannery on the other side.

Police said the driver of the car, Timothy S. Rinehart, 16, of Rockville, has neither a driver's license nor a learner's permit. Rinehart's father, Ronald Rinehart, was in the front seat of the car. No charges have been filed while police investigate.

Officer Derek Baliles, a police spokesman, said the two other cyclists had been riding side by side in front of Flannery. The three had just climbed a steep incline on River Road before the car came around the bend. The two cyclists were able to veer out of the path of the oncoming car but Flannery, who was wearing a helmet, was hit head-on, Baliles said.

Another passenger in the car, a teen-age guest of the Rineharts from Cleveland, was not injured.

The Rineharts were transported by ambulance to Shady Grove Hospital and were treated and released, Baliles said.

They could not be contacted.

Last month, Flannery became the oldest woman ever to be named Master Triathlete of the Year. Triathletes swim, bike and run races on the same day.

She also was very active in promoting the sport, serving this year as chairman of the Women's Committee for U.S.A. Triathlon.

Flannery often spoke to large groups to encourage women to become triathletes, said Rachel Isaacs of the U.S.A. Triathlon in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Flannery would bring her racing bag to the podium.

"She would pull out her bike shoes and goggles and talk about how the first time she raced she was nervous and didn't know what to bring,'' Isaacs said. "She had a great sense of humor."

Flannery, the mother of four daughters and one son, was the wife of Dennis Flannery, a Washington attorney.

The couple met after Judith Flannery had completed a 1961 bachelor's degree in biochemistry at the College of New Rochelle and was working at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. They married in 1964 and moved to Washington, where Flannery worked at the Na-tional Institutes of Health for a year.

The couple lived in Germany while Dennis Flannery served in the Army, returning to Washington in 1967 and settling in the Town of Chevy Chase in 1972.

They both started running to get into shape but Judith Flannery quickly found she had a special talent, recalled her husband. "She just got better and better.''

Soon, she was running the Marine Corps and Boston marathons and tackling triathlons.

She was hoping to race across the United States this summer from California to Georgia, part of a three-women team of whom she would be the oldest, her husband said.

Her friends spoke this week of Flannery's humility in the midst of her fame. "She was very modest. She had none of the big egos that quality athletes often have,'' said Locke of U.S.A. Triathlon.

Father John Adams, who directs So Others Might Eat (SOME) in Washington, where Flannery cooked and served lunch every Tuesday for the past eight years, said he never knew she was a world-renowned athlete.

"It was pretty extraordinary," Adams said. "She was always pleasant, faithful and committed. We weren't aware of the other side, which is how famous she was."

Dennis Flannery said he hoped people would think of his wife's life in happy terms.

"We all want to say this period should be a celebration of her life and not focus on her death," he said. "She had a wonderful life and left people wonderful memories.

"It's a terrible loss and the only consolation is her memory," said Flannery. "She was a vibrant and wonderful and amazing person who had a great impact on everybody she knew and everything she touched, and that's the way we will remember her."

In addition to her husband, Flan-nery is survived by daughters Erin, 31; Kelly, 27; Shannon, 25; Megan, 22; and son Dennis, 29; and a brother, David Sysko, of Newark, Del.

There will be a wake for Flannery from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Joseph Gawler's Sons, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. in Washington.

Flannery's funeral Mass will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at Our Lady of Lourdes, 7500 Pearl Street in Bethesda.