Camaraderie makes annual Tri for a Cure in South Portland a special event

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Kate Kelly, who will compete in her 11th Tri for a Cure Women’s Sprint Triathlon on Sunday, said she started the race as an athlete and now participates in honor of her brother-in-law.

“I’m one of the originals,” she said of the 18.3-mile event’s 1,300 female participants.

Founded in 2008 by Julie Marchese and Abby Bliss, the Tri for a Cure has become the largest triathlon in the state of Maine, utilizing a course along coastal South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. It consists of a 1/3-mile swim, a 15-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run, with the start and finish at Southern Maine Community College.

Kelly, a Cumberland resident, said the first three years were about adventure, fundraising and acquiring gear for the race. But in 2010, cancer hit her own family; Kelly’s brother-in-law Rob died from the disease on Christmas Day. 

Since then, Kelly said she has strived each year to top her own goals for the Maine Cancer Foundation‘s annual fundraiser, and to achieve a faster time, in Rob’s memory. She raises about $5,000 each year. 

Kelly said the camaraderie and supportive atmosphere make the race special for women who may want to participate in a triathlon, but for one reason or another are hesitant to try. 

“I always say, anybody can swim a third of a mile. We’ve seen the doggy paddle, the breaststroke, the backstroke. Ten-speed bikes, bikes with tassels and $5,000 bikes,” she said of the array of people and their equipment in the event. 

Kelly, always an athlete, had never competed in a triathlon, but decided to give it a try when co-workers in her office signed up. “I love this event, the camaraderie of all women – it’s an incredible experience,” she said. 

Inspired by the Tri for a Cure, Kelly now competes in three or four triathlons each year. Last year, she completed her first half ironman – a 70.3-mile event – in Old Orchard Beach.

“Not bad for 60,” she said. 

The average age of participants last year was 48, according to the cancer foundation; they ranged in age from 16 to 76. Nineteen states are represented in the race, but 87 percent of racers live in Maine. 

Of advice she has to women thinking of participating Kelly said, “Just do it. It’s a great experience, you’ll be so happy when it’s completed. It’s a wonderful accomplishment, and you’re training for a cause.”

Festivities begin Saturday, July 21, with an Expo Day featuring vendors, music and merchandise sales from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Participants will also be able to pick up their race packets and rack their bikes at Southern Maine Community College. 

Opening ceremonies for the triathlon begin at 8:10 a.m. on Sunday.

Kristen Smith, director of community engagement for the Maine Cancer Foundation, said the foundation is always seeking volunteers to help with the race, for which $1.5 million of a $2 million goal has already been raised this year. 

All funds raised by the foundation stay in state, she said. The event is Maine Cancer Foundation’s largest fundraising event of the year.

Traffic 

Heavy traffic and delays are expected on these coastal streets Sunday, July 22, from about 7 a.m.-1 p.m., during the Tri for a Cure: Route 77 and Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth, Broadway and Benjamin Pickett in South Portland, Fort and Preble in South Portland, Willard Square in South Portland, Sawyer Street and Cottage Road in South Portland, Sawyer Street and Mitchell Road in South Portland, Sawyer Street and Route 77 in South Portland, Sawyer Road and Fickett Street in South Portland, Sawyer Road and Route 77 in Scarborough.

Shore Road from Route 77 to Preble Street in Cape Elizabeth will be closed to northbound traffic for the race. Cape Elizabeth police are asking all motorists to avoid Shore Road.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext., 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka

Spectators gather above while race participants rally below at the beginning of the 10th annual Tri for a Cure at Spring Point in South Portland in 2017. 

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