A moment for the girls: Sponsored all-female team finishes 7th at Josh Billings RunAground

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LENOX — When Lori Kingsley crossed the finish line Sunday in the 41st Josh Billings RunAground, she completed something that had been a long time in the making. Things put in motion long before she took a wristband toss from her paddling teammates at Camp Mah-Kee-Nac beach, and long before she joined up with a team called Girlzilla three years ago.

Kingsley's finish will serve as the lasting image of the first time an all-female, fully-sponsored team competed in the Josh. To top that off, Kingsley was the first female finisher Sunday at Tanglewood, where her crew placed seventh overall in 2:33.08.

Girlzilla recently made the switch and now competes under Berkshire Bike and Board sponsorship, with team captain Laura Walton leading the way with canoe-mate Gloria Wesley, bicyclist Cheryl Clark and Kingsley.

"The rest of my team did phenomenal. The run was a little challenging though," said Kingsley. "Right when we got ready to run it was like 80 degrees, but we're all competing in the same conditions."

While Kingsley is a relative newcomer to the squad, Walton and Wesley are long-time veterans, having met when Wesley first started paddling around 13 years ago. Wesley's Josh resume extends to around 26 RunAgrounds, while Walton recalls about 17 of them. Three years ago, Walton saw Kingsley's race time when she was a part of a mixed team and quickly made the proposal.

"Laura saw my time and contacted me, asking if I'd be interested and I said of course, especially for an all-women's team," said Kingsley, who was floored to see the longtime paddling duo reach shore when they did. "They were like fourth. I had this shocked moment, they're a beast."

Walton and Wesley weren't surprised. They had gotten a great start off Clark's ride and were just hauling out the five miles around Stockbridge Bowl.

"That was the goal. Our biker was in the first pack and I ran by most of those people down to the water, so there were only two people who got into the water in front of us," said Wesley, who cut through a crowd at the boat ramp to meet Walton at their canoe."I knew I'd be stressing if I were [Kingsley], but she was there dancing. She looked excited that we were coming in. There were a lot of teams on the shore yelling for our boat."

"We were the second canoe out of the water, and third boat out, so she was the third runner to start, which put a lot of pressure on her," said Walton. "You see a women's team up that far, you get a bit more attention."

A couple years back, while still new to the team, Kingsley wasn't ready for the boat. She still had sweats on and was warming up when Walton and Wesley reached the shallows and called her name. This time around, Kingsley was geared up and ready to roll.

Running against the elite men was a grind and she expected to be passed, but was able to minimize the damage despite a challenging mental and physical climb over the final six miles.

"It feels like you're running slow even though you're doing a 6:20," said Kingsley, who finished less than a second behind sixth-place Josh Itch's Stephen Foley. That team featured paddler Sue Purdy, the only female on any team to finish above Berkshire Bike and Board.

The No. 7 finish now serves as the apogee for all-women's crews at the Josh, a big deal especially considering race director Patty Spector was at one time a paddling teammate of Walton's. The pride in Walton's voice comes from her team's overall race as much as it does from the fact that for the first time ever, the Josh had a paid sponsorship for an all-women's crew.

"We were the only team that ever broke the top-10 four or five years ago. We've been ninth, 10th, 11th, and now we're seventh," said the team captain, who along with Wesley has had to build a reinforced shelf for all the trophy mugs.

Still, the sponsorship of Berkshire Bike and Board has done little to cover up the heart of Girlzilla, as Wesley jokingly retaliated to Kingsley's comment that she looks like this sweet woman and then goes out and crushes the course.

"I hope I don't look like a sweet woman. That's not Girlzilla."

Reach sports writer Mike Walsh at 413-496-6240 or @CLNS_Walsh.


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