‘Midnight’ crowd brings home one last Ironman in 2017

Michele Stryeski of Bristol, Connecticut, charges toward the finish line at the Olympic Speedskating Oval in Lake Placid at 12:02 a.m. Monday morning, July 24, 2017, the final person who was brought in by “The Voice of Ironman” Mike Reilly after completing the 140.6-mile triathlon. (Staff photo — Antonio Olivero)

LAKE PLACID — Two minutes after midnight, as Sunday night, July 23, became Monday morning, July 24, 2017, “The Voice of Ironman” Mike Reilly began his thank yous.

After a few final Ironman Lake Placid competitors finished their 140.6-mile triathlon journey in the moments before and after what’s regarded as Ironman’s “Midnight Hour,” the music was turned off. Members of the crowd ceased banging their orange inflatable noise-makers together and rattling their bells. Ironman Lake Placid 2017 was complete. And, on behalf of this person and that person, Reilly was signing off.

“I’ve done 163 of these,” Reilly said. This is like one of the best ones ever! On behalf of my partners …”

But then, an Ironman Lake Placid volunteer spotted one final runner entering the cement of the famed Olympic oval in the darkness around the bend from the bright lights of the finish line in front of Lake Placid Middle-High School.

“We’ve got one more?” Reilly asked over the loudspeaker. “Do you see one?

“Well,” Reilly asked the hundreds in attendance who remained, “What are we going to do?”

Those who were in the process of leaving ran back to the stands to catch a glimpse of the final competitor to cross the finish line: Michele Stryeski of Bristol, Connecticut.

As Stryeski made the final turn of her 140.6-mile journey, putting one foot in front of the other atop the red carpet that is the Ironman Lake Placid homestretch, onlookers in the crowd began slamming their orange noise-makers again. Others smacked a beat in unison against the fence. Another hoisted an inflatable unicorn in the air as Stryeski passed, her eyes on the finish line.

“One more! One more!” several onlookers screamed as they sprinted back to the stands to catch a glimpse.

“We’re going to bring her home!” Reilly screamed as the refrain from Queen’s We Are the Champions returned loudly over the speakers. “Let’s turn the music up!”

“(She is) going to be an Ironman in our hearts!” Reilly said.

“Michele Stryeski,” he continued into the microphone. “Come on, Michelle!

“You did it, Michele!” Reilly said as the announcer and competitor high-fived each other.

Six seconds later, she crossed the finish line. And no matter her time, to those who stuck it out past the midnight hour and remained in attendance, she was one of the Ironmen and Ironwomen onlookers will never forget from this 17-plus hour day.

Five days before her 140.6-mile swimming, biking and running journey through the Adirondacks began, Stryeski shared on Facebook “how cool” it was that professional triathlete and eventual second place finisher Andy Potts would be competing in Lake Placid.

“Maybe he will hand me my medal around 11:45 that night?” she wrote.

She may have been off by 17-or-so minutes, and the details of who was there and who wasn’t may not have been exactly the same, but in the early morning hours of July 24, like the 2,100-plus other iron-willed racers before her, Stryeski got her medal and her moment.