In 2005, Julie Marchese crossed the finish line of her first triathlon. But reaching the finish line wasn’t her only battle: Marchese had been diagnosed with breast cancer just one year earlier. Completing the triathlon, she says, was “really life changing for me. I wanted all women to have the opportunity to feel that sense of accomplishment.” At the time, Marchese was a board member of the Maine Cancer Foundation, having joined the foundation following her mother’s breast-cancer diagnosis in 2000. Three years after her first triathlon, Marchese started Tri for a Cure, an annual all-female triathlon held at Southern Maine Community College. Since then, she has enabled thousands of women to complete their first triathlons. Along the way, Tri for a Cure’s eight races have raised approximately $8 million to support the Maine Cancer Foundation.
July 17 will mark the ninth Tri for A Cure event, with 1,400 registered to compete. Marchese, 55, continues to empower women through athletics, as race director for the triathlon and co-director of SheJams, a workout and training group for women. She took some time out recently to talk with Maine Women Magazine about the Tri and its impact.
Q: YOU FOUNDED TRI FOR A CURE NINE YEARS AGO. WHEN YOU STARTED IT, DID YOU ANTICIPATE IT WOULD BECOME THIS BIG?
A: When you start something you never really anticipate anything, you’re just trying to make it work for the first year. Now that eight years have gone by, it’s still kind of surreal that we’ve been able to keep the women of Maine excited about doing the race year after year, and keep everyone motivated to raise money and come together for the cause. We have 500 new people signed up this year, and each year we’re generating more and more new people coming to the race, which is really wonderful.
Since we reached maximum capacity a few years ago, what excites me more is not that it’s so big, it’s that we’re able to fill all the spots and have a wait list every year. There are a lot more people who want to do it than can get in, so for us that’s totally amazing.
Q: WHY DO YOU THINK SO MANY PEOPLE ARE ATTRACTED TO THIS RACE?
A: Because it’s not really a race. I mean it is a race, but that’s secondary. People want to do it because there are 1,400 other women doing it, so it’s a really fun event, but they also are there because of the cause. So many people have been touched by cancer, so the combination of doing something you maybe have never done before and raising money for such a needy cause really goes hand in hand.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE ENERGY AT TRI FOR A CURE?
A: If you ever need to have any inspiration whatsoever you need to be there, because it is the most inspiring day you could ever imagine. There are women of every age, every shape, every size coming together for a cause. A lot of volunteers say, “Look at these women. If they can do this, I can do it.” And that’s where many of our newbies come from the following year.
Q: HAS THE EXCITEMENT WORN OFF AT ALL AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?
A: Not at all. Every year has its own unique things, and there are always people that stick out. A few years ago we had a girl who was blind complete the entire race with her guide. Last year we had two volunteers who were twins with the same cancer. Every year there’s a story.
Q: HAS THE RACE CHANGED AT ALL SINCE THE FIRST?
A: In Year 1, the event was self-contained. Everything took place down at the waterfront. Now we pretty much take up the whole SMCC campus, and we’ve changed it to make it bigger and make the flow work better. Each year we adjust something; there’s always something because we’re always aiming for perfection. This year we’ve changed where the women in relays hand off their chip to another teammate. There are about 300 women doing relays, so that’s a lot of people in one area trying to transition from swim to bike to run. It’s one area we can’t seem to get right, but we’re hoping this year we will.
Q: WILL YOU COMPETE THIS YEAR?
A: I wish I could. Race day for me is about safety. I have to make sure the race flows properly and if there are any issues, I would be the lead on that. But this year, no, I’m not doing the race, nor have I ever done the race. But I’m praying and hoping by year 10 I’ll be able to do a part of it because that will be a big year for us.