The Right View: Maine, the way road rage should be

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Forgive my departure this week from the blood bath that is politics, but we live in an amazing place, and amazing places inspire amazing people.

Maine is host to a myriad of road races, many of which raise astronomical amounts of money for exceptionally worthy causes. I’ve participated in several, and they are truly life-changing experiences. Not only for the person competing, but for those who benefit from the fundraising.

One such race, the Tri for a Cure, Maine’s premier all-women sprint triathlon (1/2- mile swim, 12.4-mile bike, and a 3.1-mile run), takes place on the campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. It began eight years ago and raises money for the Maine Cancer Foundation.

Race founders Julie Jordan Marchese, a cancer survivor, and Abby Bliss set a fundraising goal of $35,000 the first year, and raised $275,000. Each year they have done more, raising $1.5 million this year. They’ve racked up an astonishing $8.2 million since the inception of the race.

Cancer survivors have the honor of going off in the first wave of swimmers, and it’s always an emotional start to the race. Marchese also co-leads a tremendously supportive women’s training group, sheJAMs, that prepares women, whether first-time beginners or experienced veterans, for either the swim, bike or run portion of the race, or all three.

It’s truly an amazing race, inspired by amazing women.

My favorite 10K is hands down the TD Beach to Beacon, or B2B, which was held last Saturday. The B2B was the concept of Cape Elizabeth native, and winner of the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon in 1984, Joan Benoit Samuelson.

“Joanie,” as she is commonly known, wanted to come home after her Olympic win and create a world-class race in her hometown. And that she did. This 6.2-mile run winds along picturesque neighborhoods starting near Crescent Beach State Park, and ends with an uphill climb at Fort Williams Park.

Cape Elizabeth residents pull out all the stops to show participants their support. There are, literally, thousands of people lining the streets to cheer 6,500 runners. There is so much energy, it’s impossible to be discouraged.

Another great opportunity the B2B provides is for local families to host runners from countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, to name just a few. In addition, the B2B has a different beneficiary every year (this year’s was the Good Shepherd Food Bank), so participants can be sure that their entry fees are going to a good cause. There are also cash prizes for the winners in each category of runners.

While the vast majority of weekend-warrior and recreational runners finish in about an hour, the course records are 27:27 by Gilbert Okari of Kenya in 2003 for men, and 30:59 by Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya in 2010 for the women. Those are sustained 4 1/2- and 5-minute miles, folks. That is beyond inspiring. That is super-human.

Fans of the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” will recognize actor Patrick Dempsey as Dr. Derek Shepherd, but more importantly Dempsey is the founder of the Dempsey Challenge, which benefits the Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing in Lewiston. A Maine native, Dempsey got involved in the fight against cancer after watching his mother’s battle with ovarian cancer beginning in 1997.

In 2009, Dempsey launched the first Dempsey Challenge, with 3,500 walkers, runners and cyclists who raised more than $1 million for the center. Last year, Dempsey participated without his mother for the first time after she lost her fight with her disease. His Center for Cancer Hope and Healing in Lewiston continues to offer services, free of charge, to anyone affected by cancer, including family members and care-givers. The array of services offered is seemingly endless, and I encourage anyone touched by this disease to look into what they provide.

While the B2B and Tri for a Cure are behind us for this year, the Dempsey Challenge will take place Oct. 17 and 18, and is still accepting registrations.

None of these events could happen without the hundreds of volunteers who seem to make them all come together. More amazing Mainers making incredible things happen.

These are only three of the multitude of races that are available for anyone, and I mean anyone, to try. Tri Maine and Rev3 host races throughout the summer, including another all-women’s, Marchese-inspired event, the Rev3 Olympic distance triathlon, for those looking for the next step up after a sprint distance race.

The beauty of all of the races is that first-timers can participate with professionals on the same course. The enthusiasm will propel beginners along in a wave of cheers that won’t soon be forgotten. So get out there and be amazing. In Maine, it’s the way fitness should be.

(For Jan, who ran the entire B2B this year, and continues her battle. You are amazing, and an inspiration.)

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Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, development chairwoman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, and occasional guest host on WGAN 560AM. Her column appears every other week.