Bunny Kehoe admits that years ago she worried that her daughter, Danielle, might be a little out of control with her passion for triathlons.

"She was watching Ironmans on television and she'd be like, 'I'm going to do that one day,'" Bunny recalled. "I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, please no.'"

On Sunday, Bunny could not have been more proud as she stood at the finish line and watched Danielle become an Ironman champion. Bursting with energy and excitement as she crossed the finish line, Danielle won the women's pro race at the first Ironman Boulder triathlon, located not far from where she grew up in Arvada.

"It's very surreal," Danielle said through the smile painted on her face. "I'm over-elated. I don't know. It's a dream come true."

A 2005 graduate of Holy Family High School, Danielle, 27, had been pointing to this day for nearly 20 years.

Inspired by her older brother, Jonathan, and older sister, Kristina, who both competed in triathlons, Danielle competed in her first triathlon at the age of 7. Throughout high school, Danielle was a key member of the Holy Family track and cross country teams, but her passion was triathlons.

The harder she worked, the better she became.

In 2011, Danielle began racking up age group wins. Among those was a first-place finish for the 20-24 female group at Ironman St. George (Utah) on May 7, 2011. That was her first Ironman event.


In 2012, she competed in six events and won her age group every time. She was the first overall amateur in four of those events, and finished second in the other two. She capped that sensational year by winning her age group at the Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii.

She turned pro at the end of the 2012 season and produced three top-five finishes a year ago.

Through it all, Bunny realized that few things make her daughter happier.

"When she'd come in from riding like 80, 90 miles, she'd be like, 'I'm living the dream,'" Bunny said.

The dream reached its pinnacle on Sunday, as Danielle finished the 140.6-mile course in 9 hours, 19 minutes, 54 seconds. She defeated second-place Laura Bennett by 24:05.

Winning didn't seem to be in the cards for Danielle after the swimming portion of Sunday's race. She was the fifth pro out of the water and the last pro out of the swim-to-bike transition.

"I'm not a fast swimmer, but I make it up somehow," she said.

Coming out of the water nearly 10 minutes behind Bennett, Danielle began making up ground on her bike. She finished the 112-mile bike course in 4 hours, 53 minutes, cutting 6:30 off of Bennett's lead.

Bennett continued to lead for the first 10 to 12 miles of the marathon, but began to struggle. Danielle took advantage and sped past Bennett. Danielle finished the marathon in 3:16:42.

"She just looked amazing coming by," Bennett said. "She actually looked stronger, probably on her second lap. She was very strong today. It was very impressive."

That will come as no surprise to Bunny, who for years has watched her daughter test her limits and push her body further and further.

"This little pipsqueak has got a lot of endurance," Bunny said.

On Sunday, Danielle's endurance was on full display, but so was her preparation. She called herself the "darkest horse on the race course," but for weeks had studied the perfect race plan she drew up for herself.

"I read it every single day, morning and night," she said. "I just had a really good vibe about this race."

Racing close to home, with a large support group cheering her on, Danielle kept the good vibes going throughout the day.

At the end, Danielle couldn't wait to shift her focus to her fiancé, Jeff Mack. Her high school sweetheart competed in his first Ironman on Sunday.

For Danielle, it was fitting that the run course took the athletes through Boulder's Eben G. Fine Park.

"That's where he proposed to me," she said.

Two years ago, Danielle had the best year of her triathlon career. Yet, with her first pro win now under her belt and her November wedding on the horizon, 2014 is going to be a tough year to top.

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.