As she watched her mother cross the finish line in South Portland at the Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure triathlon last July, Katherine Smith suddenly knew what she had to do. She had to join her mom, whose smile was the biggest she had ever seen, and all the other women swimming, biking and running in the fight against cancer.
“I have never done anything like this,” said Smith of her upcoming participation in Tri for a Cure. “I was inspired to do it by my mom. Her name is Judith Heggeman and she is one determined lady.”
Smith will join her mom in honoring the woman she never had a chance to meet – her maternal grandmother. “Nana Irene” battled cancer for many years and died before Smith was born. Despite not knowing her grandmother, Smith said, Nana Irene has had a profound impact on her life.
“My Nana was a very strong, brave woman. For 19 years she tried every new medicine that became available and even though she had struggles she still made all my mom’s clothes, taught my mom how to sew, knit and cook, helped anyone she could that needed help or a place to stay,” said Smith. “I have learned to live, love, help others and be patient from my mom and I believe that came from my Nana.”
Smith, who is 39 and a native of New Hampshire, moved to Maine when she was 14. She now lives in Cumberland Foreside with her husband and two daughters. Smith said family is important to her and having a chance to honor her mother and grandmother and help support finding a cure is an “honor.”
“With all the breakthroughs we’ve had and cancer survival rates continuing to go up, I am hopeful we will find a cure,” said Smith.
She will join her 62-year-old mother in participating in the seventh annual Tri for a Cure on July 20, which includes a third of a mile swim, 15 miles of biking and finishes with a 3-mile run. Smith is a bit nervous about the ocean swim, but said she will keep her focus on the people dealing with cancer.
“I worry that I’ll get into panic mode as I start the swim but I will get through,” said Smith. “I will keep all those fighting this disease in my mind as I go through it. I can do it.”
Smith said the triathlon will be challenging but that she is training hard to prepare herself for the rigorous event. She is working out as often as she can and has joined sheJAMS, a Portland-based club that offers women a wide array of training opportunities, including a specific regime for those participating in Tri for a Cure.
“I was never an athlete, but about a year ago I started eating clean and working out at home. I have become very passionate about training and just ran my first 5K on June 12,” she said.
The race Smith ran on June 12 was the Twilight 5K, a Tri for a Cure run clinic that helps participants increase their run efficiency. The goal is to reduce risk of injury and make running more enjoyable for Tri for Cure participants, many of whom are first-time triathletes. The Twilight 5K was a personal best for Smith, who came in at 29:52, for which she gives credit to her sheJAMS running coach.
“Getting the right training is helpful,” said Smith. “Working with sheJAMS helps because the group is so supportive and really keeps you motivated. I have met some amazing ladies who hold each other accountable and congratulate us on any small triumph. I enjoy going to each training class knowing that I am surrounded with feel-good energy.”
Smith will be competing in the solo category, along with her mother, who is racing for the second time. She said she is most looking forward to finishing the race, coming across the line with a sense of accomplishment, and with a smile to match her mother’s. She knows the triathlon will be physically demanding, but she is determined to give it her best.
“So many families are touched by cancer,” said Smith. “I will not give up.”
Katherine Smith ran in the Twilight 5K on June 12 in preparation for the upcoming Tri for a Cure triathlon. Smith posted a time of 29:52 for the race, a personal best. Katherine Smith, right, and her mother, Judith Heggeman, will both be competing in the Tri for a Cure triathlon. Heggeman has participated in the race before, but this is the first time for her daughter.