There from the start

There from the start

They’ve seen the darkness and the light; they’ve felt their share of pain (both physical and mental); they’ve experienced compassion and caring; and, ultimately, they’ve found hope.

The six women here are all cancer survivors, and each one has participated in the Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure every year since its inception in 2008.

Here are their inspiring stories.

Karen Cloutier, 44

Cumberland

Q

Has the race gotten any easier?

A

Training is much easier this year, since I am part of a relay team with two of my best friends. We trained together the first year, and have continued for the past four. I will cover the bike portion of the race this year. I have to admit, though, training the first year was the most exciting, not knowing what to expect race day. The very first year of the Tri was the most memorable. I borrowed a bike and learned to swim and run that year. I trained hard with some of the most amazing women that I know.

Q

What was your reason for signing up the first time?

A

One of my breast cancer survivor friends convinced a group of us survivors into signing up. This was the night of the funeral of a dear young friend who had just lost the battle with breast cancer. We decided to be a part of this event in honor of her. We trained together with all our hearts. It was very emotional crossing the finish line with these amazing friends.

Q

What drives you to continue doing it?

A

Being a stage IV breast cancer survivor, the finish line is very symbolic to me. I figure every year that I cross that finish line is another year I am here, alive, beating the odds.

Q

What’s the best part about participating?

A

All of the amazing women. We all have the same goal: To raise money for this heartfelt cause, and to train and remain healthy inside and out. I found the power of sisterhood an amazing thing through training and on race day.

Q

What’s your advice for women thinking about doing the race?

A

Do it! Crossing that finish line the first time is life-changing. It is an amazing feeling that you will never forget.

Beth Birch, 70

New Gloucester

Q

Has the race gotten any easier?

A

I love this race, despite having the long run from the swim to the bike (my old legs don’t like that part). I’ve been doing triathlons for 20 years, so for me, only my aging has made it harder. Emotionally, it’s a joy to prepare for.

Q

What was your reason for signing up the first time?

A

I was persuaded to begin coaching a triathlon class at Pineland YMCA in New Gloucester. Karen Cloutier, an amazing cancer survivor, was preparing for her first Tri for a Cure. She had been told she probably would be not able to swim. (But) she learned to swim, bike and run. There were others in the class doing the same thing. It inspired me to do it with them. I did it also in memory of my aunt, Harriet Davis.

Q

What drives you to continue doing it?

A

I still coach and I still have women training to do the Tri every year. Since the first year, I have had melanoma, and my sister is now a breast cancer survivor. My friend Karen (Cloutier) remains healthy and beautiful. How could I not continue?

Q

What’s the best part of participating?

A

You know, it strikes me every time I think of the race, not just the survivor wave at the water ready to swim, but also the crowds of people up on the cliffs, all families and friends of survivors – what it means to them and the cheering crowds knowing that their loved one is a survivor. Many participants overcome terrific odds just to be able to do this triathlon.

Q

What’s your advice for women thinking about doing the race?

A

I have way too much advice to offer, but here are some basic things I tell everyone: The day of the triathlon is a celebration of your being a survivor (or of your friend or relative being a survivor). The swim is your warm-up for the rest of the race – swim strong and steady. No matter how long it takes, finishing is winning.

Meredith Strang Burgess, 56

Cumberland

State representative for Cumberland; ?a member of the race committee

Q

Has the race gotten any easier?

A

It’s still a very emotional day, a very amazing day. It does get easier, because you know what to expect.

Q

What was your reason for signing up the first time?

A

Just support. I was part of the living room conversation that got the event going. You see so many women, of different ages and sizes and capabilities – women who are just way out of their comfort zone, and they’re doing this. Then there are the cancer stories that weave between. It’s very inspirational. Even the volunteers rave about getting as much, if not more, out of volunteering.

Q

What drives you to continue doing it?

A

The No. 1 reason is to raise money. The Maine Cancer Foundation is a unique, one-of-a-kind organization. All the money stays in Maine. Also, to be a part of this wonderful event that everybody is so positive about.

Q

What’s the best part about participating?

A

My job since the first race has been to start first and end last. This isn’t about being competitive, it’s just about the day, the experience, the people. We know this event is life-changing. This is so not about the athletic part, it’s about the spirit. It has that special “Je ne sais quoi” of an event. It just takes your inner soul and sets your clock back to the way it should be – being mindful of others, respectful, appreciating what you have. Pretty much everybody that does it comes away with that halo of appreciation.

Q

What’s your advice for women thinking about doing the race?

A

To participate if you can, or if you can’t or aren’t ready to, volunteer. You’ll see – there are all ages, all shapes. It’s a life-changing experience. Don’t get hung up on the athletic part. Just take your time. The goal is to finish.

Meg Hausman, 45

Cumberland

Q

Has the race gotten any easier?

A

Three things have definitely gotten harder since I did the Tri five years ago: getting into the race, the caliber of the competitors, and fitting into my wetsuit. In spite of my lack of speed, physically the race has gotten easier, mainly because I know what to expect and I know that I can finish. Each year the survivor group has gotten larger and larger. The fact that there are so many survivors participating is good: All proof that funding cancer research is effective.

Q

What was your reason for signing up the first time?

A

When I was first diagnosed with cancer in July 2005, I called a good friend of mine who is also a cancer survivor. She recommended that I get in touch with a group of 30-something women survivors. All of them live in the greater Portland area, all are cancer survivors or were going through treatment at that time, and all have kids. Unfortunately, one of the group members, whose cancer had metastasized, passed away in December 2007. After that, we decided to compete in the Tri in her honor.

Q

What drives you to continue doing it?

A

Although the time to train is always in short supply, the motivation to participate is never lacking. Like many, my family has been profoundly touched by cancer. Each year brings news of more friends and family who are diagnosed. Consequently, every year I dedicate one day to swim, bike, and run for this cause in hopes that next year there won’t be any new people for me to think about as I trudge around the race course.

Q

What’s the best part about participating?

A

Besides crossing the finish line, knowing that all the money raised is going toward a good cause – it’s not just funding research, it’s also funding support programs for patients and families affected by cancer.

Q

What’s your advice for women thinking about doing it?

A

If you’re thinking about trying a triathlon, the Tri for a Cure is a great place to start. Everyone – athletes, volunteers, spectators – are all very friendly, supportive and encouraging. When training, practice the transition from biking to running; my legs usually feel like lead at this point. It takes about a half-mile of slow running before they feel better. Before the big race day, I find it helpful to check out the course – run it, bike it, drive it – anything to help you get a mental picture of what’s to come. Most importantly, have fun.

Sharon Leddy-Smart, 45

South Portland

Q

Has the race gotten any easier?

A

It hasn’t physically gotten any easier, especially since each year I get a little older, but my nerves have definitely settled down. The unknown is always unsettling, but I soon realized it is not as terrifying as I thought. Training for a triathlon is very time consuming, and like most busy mothers, finding the time to train is always challenging. I do the best I can and remind myself that it is the experience that is important – not the time it takes to cross the finish line.

Q

What was your reason for signing up the first time?

A

A few of my friends were recruiting for a new women’s triathlon designed for first-time triathletes and they said that I should do it. I was assured that we would all train together and it would be a lot of fun. I figured, why not?

Q

What drives you to continue doing it?

A

Each year my driving force is my children. Two weeks before the 2009 Tri, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite my diagnosis, I was fortunate to be able to participate. After a long year of surgeries and treatments, I returned in 2010 as a survivor. That year’s triathlon was, by far, the most physically challenging, but I was determined to cross the finish line whether running, walking or crawling. I hope that my participating gives my children (and others) the hope to believe in themselves, the courage to face their fears, and the strength to never give up.

Q

What’s the best part about participating?

A

Being part of the special bond of sisterhood – the hundreds of women joining together to support and encourage each other while raising money for the fight against cancer.

Q

What’s your advice for women thinking about doing it?

A

Go for it; you can do it. The training will be challenging, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. I guarantee it will be an event you will never forget.

Leah Temm, 32,

Scarborough

Q

Does the race get any easier?

A

In terms of training, it’s a muscle memory thing. Last year wasn’t so great – I didn’t drink enough water leading up to it. I’ve been working with a triathlon training group for two years now. (But) I don’t view it as the whole point is the race: it’s the atmosphere, the people, the cause, that make it important.

Q

What was your reason for signing up the first time?

A

I was looking at doing a triathlon before I got sick (with thyroid cancer, now in remission). When I got diagnosed, I couldn’t do very much; I was going through surgery. It was actually sold out (when I tried to sign up for the first one), so I was on the wait list. I was lucky enough to get on a sponsor team of survivors. It was my first triathlon.

Q

What drives you to continue doing it?

A

The effect doesn’t wear off – it’s always emotional and inspiring. Seeing the different ages, the different athletic abilities; it’s not competitive, it’s just something you do for fun to support the cause. In general I’m not competitive – I know I won’t be the first, and I know I won’t be the last, and that’s fine.

Q

What’s the best part of doing it?

A

Just the camaraderie. You go every year, you see the same people every year. It’s hard to explain, it’s just a whole different vibe from a typical race.

Q

What’s your advice for women thinking about doing it?

A

It’s hard to tell anybody not to be nervous. I’ve done it for the past five years and I still get nervous. Don’t look at it as a competitive thing. Set a goal for yourself to just finish, or a time to meet. It’s so much more than just an athletic event.

Tri for a cure



Sharon Leddy-SmartLeah Timm

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