When Shawna Ackley was just a little girl, she got caught in an undertow while swimming in the ocean and her mother came running to her rescue.
It frightened her.
“It was very traumatic for the both of us,” said Ackley, who lives in Scarborough. “Every time I tried to stand up, I got knocked back down before I could catch my breath again.”
After that, Ackley avoided swimming growing up. Her idea of swimming, whether in a pool or a lake, at the time “was just going in and cooling off. I never pushed myself to do laps,” she said.
Ackley, who also claims she “couldn’t run a mile” in high school, ran her first 5K in the summer of 2013. That fall she ran a 10K, and then, in 2014, Ackley ran a marathon.
This summer she plans to reach another big milestone. For the first time, the 32-year-old will be participating in the Tri for a Cure triathlon.
“I was the girl that, in elementary school, if it was a certain sport in gym class that I wasn’t good at, I’d be ‘sick’ for the day,” said Ackley. “I wasn’t very athletic, and doing something in front of my peers I wasn’t good at, was very uncomfortable.”
Ackley will be doing the Tri for the first time in honor of her aunt and two grandmothers, who all suffered from cancer.
Though she has nearly mastered running, biking and swimming will be more of a challenge. At first, she wasn’t sure if she’d do the Tri simply because she lacked skill in those areas.
“This year I’ve built up my confidence, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone,” said Ackley, who has spent the past few months training to do all three legs.
“I am a determined person,” she said. “When I set a goal, I am going to do it.”
Though swim training has been “humbling” for Ackley, it has also been the biggest challenge due to her childhood memories. Since April, the self-described “beginner” has been taking adult swim lessons at the South Portland Community Center pool. She also credits the sheJAMs training group for helping her hone her swimming and biking skills during the past few months.
Whether on her bike, in the water or in her running shoes, Ackley trains three days per week with sheJAMs.
“They inspired me and gave me different tips,” said Ackley. “It has been a lot of fun. Julie (Marchese) from sheJAMs rode her bike alongside me because she knew I was nervous. She was very supportive.”
Inspired to try out the Tri for a Cure after learning about the experience from her friends and co-workers, Ackley bought herself a new Masi road bike in April that she can’t wait to use on race day.
“They told me about how great the experience was and how empowering it was,” she said, “and they really inspired me to give this a try. A couple of years ago if someone would have asked me about doing a triathlon I would’ve laughed and been like, ‘no way.’”
But for Ackley, Tri for a Cure isn’t about setting any sort of record.
“It’s about the journey,” she said.
Ackley has set up a personal fundraising page on the Tri for a Cure website.
‘A huge milestone’
Barbara Perry has dreamed of participating in the Tri for a Cure for years, but was either too busy or couldn’t work up enough courage to participate – until now.
After researching the registration process, Perry, who admits over the years that she “chickened out,” decided this year she’d go for it.
Perry, who also recently became a certified health and wellness coach, decided that in addition to helping her clients set goals, she’d set one for herself: complete the Tri.
“I have a few people in my life who have some issues with cancer, so there is some poignancy to all of this for me personally,” said Perry, a Cumberland resident.
What’s more, she was drawn to the fact that it’s an all-women’s event.
“It’s a safer, kinder, more gentle way to get in shape and participate,” she said. “I want to be a part of that bigger realm of support.”
To challenge herself, Perry, who donned a wetsuit for the first time this spring, will be doing all three legs of the race this month. Perry is a member of sheJAMs and has also joined a gym as part of her triathlon training.
Though she considers herself an athlete in that she goes skiing, hiking and kayaking, Perry, 59, will be taking on her first triathlon. Running will be the biggest challenge.
“I’ve never done anything competitive like this,” she said.
Before her training began, Perry had a hard time running a mile.
Now, in addition to running with sheJAMs, Perry spends several hours a week preparing for the big race on her own time.
“The first night I ran 21?4 miles without stopping, I was elated,” she said. “It was a huge milestone for me.”
Her confidence is now at an all-time high, she said.
The next challenge? To complete all three legs of the race – which includes a one-third-mile swim, a 15-mile bike ride and 3-mile run – in just three hours.
She has realized through her training that, “if you want to accomplish something, you have to make it a priority,” she said.
On June 11, Perry participated in her first-ever 5K during the Maine Cancer Foundation’s Twilight 5K in South Portland, an event she calls “inspiring.”
“Every time I go out to train, I think about the people I have lost to cancer and the people I care so much about who deal with cancer every day. That is clearly the beauty of this fundraiser,” said Perry. “I am working hard, and so are those living with cancer. We are all working toward the same thing. I like that unity and partnership.”
Barbara Perry and fellow sheJAMs members take a break from swim training at Crystal Lake in Gray. Courtesy photo Barbara Perry of Cumberland runs in the Twilight 5K in South Portland on June 11.Courtesy photoShawna Ackley of Scarborough trains for the Tri for a Cure on her bike.Photo Courtesy Maine Photo Company