Dual competition

Men are competitive by nature, so they say. I’ve played my fair share of competitive sports over the years, and still do. However, I’ve never come close to contemplating a triathlon.

Lucky for me, next month’s Tri for a Cure triathlon was created and designed as a female-only event – I’m off the hook.

But, it’s not always about the competition.

To me, the true spirit of events like Tri for a Cure, which is an annual fundraiser for the Maine Cancer Foundation, is about fighting a universal evil (like cancer) together. Whether it’s hundreds of women or men doing the swimming, biking and running to raise money for a disease, the real outcome is a sense of community. So far this year, with the triathlon still a month away, the event has raised almost $600,000 of a $1.5 million goal.

A big part of the Tri for a Cure community is the volunteers that keep it running smoothly. On the event’s website, there are more than 100 volunteer positions listed, ranging from duties such as swim safety kayakers, water station setup, and medical volunteers.

According to the Tri for a Cure founder Julie Marchese, there are a number of veteran volunteers, and some of the most loyal are also men.

“There are quite a few good men behind all these women,” she told me. “There are lots of husbands in general that volunteer.”

One of those men is Marchese’s husband, Dave Marchese, who has been the Tri for a Cure volunteer coordinator ever since the event’s inception eight years ago.

“Although this event is only for women athletes, the money raised by the athletes, the sponsors and through athlete registration is not earmarked for cancers that only affect women,” he told me. “The money goes to support the fight against all types of cancers.”

There are a few other guys who have volunteered since the beginning, too, including Paul Attardo, charged with motorcycle support, and Tom Caron, leading setup and breakdown for the event.

It’s a lot of work, no doubt. I remember being somewhat coaxed into volunteering during a cancer fundraiser marathon along Back Cove in Portland when I was probably a pre-teen. My mom works for New England Cancer Specialists in Scarborough (formerly Maine Center for Cancer Medicine) and was volunteering for the run, passing out cups of water for participants.

All I remember is trying to hand out cups, and sometimes, the handoff didn’t go so well. I’m sure the seasoned veteran volunteers at Tri for a Cure aren’t fumbling cups of water onto the racecourse like I was. I remember one time, I was so thirsty that I drank down one of the cups, and without noticing, tried to hand it off to a runner. The runner probably thought the 12-year-old kid wearing a Green Day T-shirt did it on purpose.

Either way, thinking back to that time makes me realize the effort that goes into such events, from participants and volunteers alike. With something like Tri for a Cure, you see how many people are taking the time to participate in something bigger than themselves.

Dave Marchese said this is probably the biggest reason he keeps donating the time (other than his wife).

This year’s Tri for a Cure also has other notable longtime male volunteers returning, including Scott Reeves, who has served as a bike coordinator for six years; Dick Warde, acting as lead on the run portion for six years; and Jeremy Litchfield, charged with recycling for five years. These guys, of course, complement the dozens of women volunteers who return annually.

Marchese agrees that the participants fully know why they’re there.

“If you have ever been to a Tri for a Cure, you will see that it’s far different from most other triathlons, and not just because it’s an all-women’s event,” he said. “There is great camaraderie between the ladies – they genuinely support each other during the race – and there is a palpable non-competitive nature for most of the athletes.”

As for the volunteers, male and female, they’re putting in the work, too. One of the Tri for a Cure slogans reads, “Cancer tries, we Tri harder.” On July 26, the physical competitors won’t be the only ones hard at work.

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