Tri for a Cure

The celebratory and empowering sprint triathlon raises money for the Maine Cancer Foundation

Maine Cancer Foundation’s annual Tri for a Cure is the largest single-day fundraiser in the state of Maine. The 2018 sprint triathlon returns on Sunday, July 22, with more than 1,200 women carrying on a tradition now in its 11th year. The women-only triathlon, which requires athletes to raise at least $500 to participate, has a huge financial impact on the work of the Maine Cancer Foundation, but many participants have an emotional connection to the race as well.

“The Tri includes women from age 16 to age 86—women of every shape and size, every level of fitness,” says Kristen Smith, director of community engagement for Maine Cancer Foundation. “It can be someone’s first race or their fifth. Everyone out there is pushing themselves past nerves or exhaustion or grief or a diagnosis. Cancer is pushing everyone on that course in one way or another, and every one of those women is pushing back—taking something back that cancer tries to take away.”

Athletes getting ready to transition from swimming to biking. Photo by Jim Newton

Because all of the participants are women, the event has a different dynamic than many co-ed races. On one hand, it’s still a serious test of endurance—on the other, it’s designed to be an empowering and celebratory experience marked by silly costumes and camaraderie.

Founded in 2008 by Maine Cancer Foundation board member Julie Marchese and her friend Abby Bliss, the race is modeled on an event sponsored by Title IX in Boston with a goal to encourage women to push themselves to their personal bests and to inspire others to see what they are capable of themselves. This is a race that’s about the community, not about the first person over the finish line.

“The women aren’t racing against each other—they are competing with each other. Each year, we see someone stop and wait for someone to catch up, someone to help across the finish line. The sense of support and camaraderie is overwhelming, and it makes the event accessible for anyone who wants to join,” says Smith.

Tri for a Cure Race Director Julie Marchese, and the 2017’s oldest participant, Cookie Kalloch of South Portland, who was 81 years old on race day. Photo by Jim Newton

In addition, 100 percent of the money raised by participants goes into programming run by the Maine Cancer Foundation. According to Smith, “one of the great things about the event is that we have a number of very generous sponsors who cover all the logistics, so all of the money raised by athletes goes right into programming; it’s reinvested back into the state of Maine to fight cancer.” Corporate sponsorships cover everything from permitting to tents, transporting bike racks and providing bibs.

Athletes and spectators during the 2017 Opening Ceremony. Photo by Jim Newton

In the first 10 years of the race, more than 10,000 participants raised just shy of $12 million. Last year’s race alone raised over $2 million, far surpassing its fundraising target. Based on that success, this year’s goal has been set at $2 million as well, and the athletes are on pace to make that happen.

While events like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life may have more name recognition, they don’t have the same kind of direct impact on Maine communities as the Tri for a Cure. Maine Cancer Foundation’s grants stay in Maine to provide preventative care, screenings and to ensure that those living with cancer get the care they need. In 2015, Maine Cancer Foundation launched Challenge Cancer 2020, a program with the goal of reducing cancer incidence and mortality in Maine by 20 percent by the year 2020. Affordable access to screenings is an integral part of this program and something the Tri for a Cure helps fund. Since the beginning of the Challenge, over $7 million in grant money has been distributed, reaching every county in the state.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment that the women of Maine can be very proud of,” says Smith.


11,790 participants swam a total of 3,462 miles, biked 158,520 miles, and ran 32,668 miles after raising $11,987,274 from 143,575 donations. This was made possible by 4,532 volunteers and 115 corporate sponsors.

For more information about the race, visit:

For more information about the Maine Cancer Foundation and their Challenge Cancer 2020, visit:

Lucinda Hannington is a transplant to Maine from Vermont. She is an avid reader, cook, eater, and lover of all things historical who lives in Portland with her husband and dog.

Photo by Jim Newton


An update on Sarah Emerson from last year’s Tri issue

Tri for a Cure participants might recall seeing Sarah Emerson of Westbrook on the course last year holding a sign that read, “I had chemo on Friday. You can do this!” (She was also featured in our Tri for a Cure issue.) We’re happy to report that she completed her treatment for breast cancer on May 31 of this year. Following 20 weeks of chemotherapy, Emerson underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. This past spring, she completed the 2018 Boston Marathon and raised over $11,500 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She also completed the Silo District Half Marathon, a race that raised over 100,000 for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, which supports rare cancer research and physical exercise through treatments. You won’t see Emerson on the sidelines of this year’s Tri for a Cure because she will be participating (and no doubt cheering everyone else on, too)!

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