‘Elite’ fundraisers lead the Tri For A Cure pack

When Ann Houser first signed up for the Tri for a Cure in 2009, she wanted to be able to complete the course, but she decided that it was more important to shine as a fundraiser than as an athlete.

“I’m overweight and over 55, although I have always been physically active,” said Houser, of South Portland. “Early on, I decided that given I never will be an elite athlete, I set out my goal to be an elite fundraiser, to keep my sights on the real reason for the event.”

Now in her second year participating in Tri for a Cure, the women’s triathlon that raises money for the Maine Cancer Foundation, Houser is one of the race’s top fundraisers. Last year she raised $4,500, and this time around she hopes to raise $5,000.

“Many people in my life have been touched by cancer, so they became my reason for not giving up, and on the day of the event, every one of them had their name written on or inside my hat,” said Houser.

As for the race?

“I wasn’t last in 2009, but almost, and this year my goal, in addition to raising lots of money, is to still not be last,” said Houser, “and to not hurt as much when I cross the finish line.”

Houser and other participants in the race are the event’s biggest source of fundraising, and because of them Tri for a Cure is the largest fundraiser for the Maine Cancer Foundation, according to event organizer Julie Marchese. In its three years as a fundraiser, Tri for a Cure is expected to raise nearly $1.3 million.

Marchese said that in 2010 the Maine Cancer Foundation awarded $800,000 in grants Approximately 85 percent of the money goes toward cancer research facilities in Maine, and 15 percent awarded to cancer support programs in Maine.

“All of the money stays right here,” said Marchese. “This total amount awarded in 2010 has doubled from previous years mostly due to Tri for a Cure success.”

She credits part of that success to the fact that many of the participants in Tri For a Cure are women who have never done a triathlon before.

“So when they ask for support of them doing a triathlon for the first time to help cancer research, friends family and coworkers are amazed at what the athlete is going to accomplish, and it is a win-win for both of us,” said Marchese. “Why not support the athlete for such a worthy cause? Everyone knows someone who has been touched with cancer.”

On average, Marchese estimated, athletes raise about $650 each, though some far exceed that amount, raising thousands of dollars each year.

For “elite fundraiser” Karen Cloutier of Cumberland, the reason to raise money is a very personal one.

“I was originally diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2004, and then the beast returned in 2006 by spreading to my lung,” said Cloutier.

The cancer progressed to stage 4 and Cloutier has undergone chemotherapy twice, as well as radiation and many surgeries.

Cloutier, who is currently cancer free, made the decision to participate in Tri for a Cure on the night of a funeral for a dear friend who had just died from breast cancer.

“At the time, I couldn’t swim, didn’t own a bike, and couldn’t run from here to the mailbox, but I was alive,” said Cloutier. “I told myself that I needed to do this for myself and that I needed to do this for Jean.”

In her three years as a participant, Cloutier has so far raised almost $13,000. Some of her fundraising methods have included raffling off hostess credits she earned from Pampered Chef. She and two other triathletes also hosted the six annual Crop for Cancer 2010 scrapbooking event in May, which raised $5,200 for the Maine Cancer Foundation.

“My hair stylist, who lost her mom to breast cancer when she was young, is raffling off hair services and a basket of hair product,” said Cloutier. “She has raised thousands of dollars with this raffle.

The organizers of Tri for a Cure have also spun off other means of fundraising from the success of Tri for a Cure, including 10 training clinics. This year they added the women’s Twilight 5K, which was held on June 3. The event raised more than $35,000. Three race participants, Karen Cooper, Tanya Grigsby and Patricia Aceto, were able to get into the Tri for a Cure, which fills up extremely fast and is consequently extremely hard to get into, by raising more than $2,000 each at the race.

For Ruth McDonough of Jamestown, R.I., raising money is a way to just be doing something to fight the disease. Almost 17 years ago, McDonough’s mother died of breast cancer at age 49 after battling the disease for more than 10 years. An earlier diagnosis might have saved her life.

“This experience left me feeling very helpless as I sat on the sidelines watching her battle with no avail,” said McDonough. “No amount of love or support was enough.”

After having four children of her own, and not wanting them to have to watch someone they love battle the disease, or take it on themselves, McDonough decided it was time to take action. Six years ago she began participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, a 60-mile walk that raises money to fight the disease. This year, after her husband left in October 2009 for an eight-month deployment in Afghanistan, she decided to take on a new challenge.

Inspired by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and niece, who completed the Tri last year, McDonough picked up three new sports and has so far raised $5,500.

“I know my participation makes a difference. I no longer feel helpless,” said McDonough. “I may not have the smarts to find a cure myself, but I know that by raising awareness and raising funds, lives are being saved.”

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