Plunging into cold ocean water to take part in the swimming segment of the Maine Cancer Foundation’s annual Tri for a Cure race last year gave Sarah Piper a warm feeling.
Hundreds of wet-suited women were swimming the triangular one-third-mile race course off a beach near Spring Point Ledge Light, and Piper said the crowd of contestants couldn’t help bumping into one another at times. But she saw no hard-core racers jostling others aside to get ahead. Instead, everyone seemed intent on making sure each swimmer succeeded.
“It’s funny,” Piper said. “While you’re swimming you hear a lot of people saying, ‘Sorry. Sorry.’ We’re all in there apologizing to make sure everybody’s OK. And that’s the one thing I loved the most about it, because when I needed a break or just slowed down a bit, random people (fellow contestants) would come by and just go, ‘Are you OK?’ You really felt the camaraderie of the women. It was empowering.”
Camaraderie – a connection to others – is an integral part of the Tri for a Cure. Founded in 2008 and billed as Maine’s only triathlon exclusively for women, the annual event in South Portland draws more than a thousand women who swim, bike and run to raise money to fight cancer.
According to the Maine Cancer Foundation, “Our triathletes share a unique bond; some are cancer survivors, others are racing in support of their loved ones, but all of them share the desire to create a cancer-free Maine.”
The race this year will take place July 21 and Piper will be a participant for the second time. Just like last year, she’ll do the swimming leg of the race as part of a three-woman relay team named Team CURE-ageous. And as Piper, 28, competes, she’ll be thinking of her grandmother, who died of breast cancer, and other family members who are cancer survivors.
Piper last year joined Jane Dyer and Monica Knight, two co-workers from Lebel & Harriman, a Falmouth-based provider of financial planning services, in the race.
Piper said the firm sponsored her and Dyer, who did the 3-mile run, and Knight, who did the 15-mile bike ride. Piper said the firm is behind the team again this year, even though she left her client service associate position there last fall so she could attend the University of Southern Maine full time to earn a degree in business management. She expects to graduate next year.
Piper, who lives in the town of Poland and described herself and her husband as “avid outdoors people who do a lot of mountain biking and surfing,” was drawn to the race for two reasons.
“I had never been in any sort of triathlon or any sort of marathon before and I’d always been curious,” she said. “And I couldn’t think of a better cause than cancer research.”
Her grandmother, Anne Rague Day, died of breast cancer when Piper was about 10 years old.
Piper described one of her favorite memories, her grandmother picking her up “in her little blue Chrysler. But because she was 4-foot-nothing, she drove sitting on a couple of phone books to see over the steering wheel.”
Her grandmother, Piper said, was “right off the boat from Italy” and was “always in the kitchen cooking. You never visited Grammy and not have a feast. From homemade sauce and meatballs to Italian cookies, you never left hungry.”
Piper said that when her grandmother got cancer, she became very frail. “She was nothing; she looked like this tiny, tiny little girl almost. She was tiny to begin with and I saw how it just ate away at you.”
She continued, “I didn’t know that she had a double mastectomy and I didn’t know it had metastasized throughout her body. I just remember seeing her in the hospital, and the last thing she said to me was she loved me and she hugged me, and then two days later she passed. That I remember vividly. And since then, I have a cousin who’s a breast cancer survivor, and my stepmother is a cancer survivor, so it’s definitely been a rampant disease.”
Piper said she did her fundraising in the names of all three family members, but “Grammy was right there. (Her name) was on my shirt, and I was doing it for her.”
Last year, Piper raised about $500 and she’s aiming for the same goal again this year, she said.
Piper said she and teammates Dyer and Knight went back and forth about names before they decided on the one for their team.
“We’re women of all different ages, out there fighting for a cause that is dear to us, and we couldn’t think of a better name than Team CURE-ageous,” Piper said. “We’re just fighting for a cure.”
Sarah Piper puts on her swim cap as she is about to enter the swimming leg of the 2012 Tri for a Cure race. She’ll be doing it again this year.The women of Team CURE-ageous cross the finish line in 2012, from left, Sarah Piper, Monica Knight and Jane Dyer.