Tri for a Cure to draw more than 700 women to South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — As a board member, Julie Marchese suggested that the Maine Cancer Foundation buck a more than decade old tradition of holding an annual golf fundraising event. 

“It’s difficult to fundraise in that venue because there are so many (golf tournaments),” Marchese said. 

Instead, she suggested holding an all-women triathlon last year and, despite some reluctance, the board agreed. And now, the foundation can boast of having the largest all-woman athletic event in Maine, if not New England, in the Tri for a Cure.

“This is definitely the largest fundraiser the Maine Cancer Foundation has ever had,” she said. “It looks like we were at the right place at the right time.”

Last year, the triathlon destroyed all expectations, including its fundraising goal of $35,000. And this year’s event, which takes place Aug. 8 and 9, is expected to be another record-breaker for the foundation.

Organizers set a registration limit last year of 500 women with the hope that 300 would actually participate. It took about eight weeks to fill the field and smash the $35,000 fundraising goal. The event netted $250,000, $200,000 of which came from the athletes’ own fundraising.

This year, when the registration opened at midnight on Feb. 1, the 700-woman field
was filled in a little over 20 minutes. On top of that, there are
also more than 700 women on a waiting list. This year’s event has
already raised more than $300,000 and the final tally could be more
than $360,000, Marchese said.

Although the triathlon is open only to women, the proceeds from the event support all kinds of cancer research at the Maine Cancer Foundation, a Portland-based nonprofit founded in 1976 to administer research grants.   

Organizer Abby Bliss said the event, which draws women of all ages, shapes and sizes, is more about personal accomplishment, camaraderie and living a healthier lifestyle than it is about winning. 

“It’s almost like a party,” Bliss said. 

Everyone has their own reason for competing, she said, whether they are cancer survivors or have somehow been affected by the disease.

This year’s Tri kicks-off at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 8, with a kids fun run. Athletes will register between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and gather in an exposition area that will feature a variety of vendors. Bliss said one of the vendors is a bone marrow transplant agency and organizers want to break a record by swabbing and logging into the national data base 1,000 potential donors. 

The triathlon starts on Sunday, Aug. 9, at 10 a.m. near Fort Preble the Southern Maine Community College campus and ends at SMCC’s athletic fields, which overlook Willard Beach. The first wave of athletes to hit the course will be cancer survivors (Marchese estimates there will upwards of 100, identified by pink caps), who will start with a 1/3-mile swim in the ocean between Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and the SMCC fish pier.

Contestants will then put on their sneakers and head to the “Transition Area,” where they will gear up and begin a 15-mile bike ride. Cyclists will travel through Willard Square to get onto Sawyer Street. From there, bikers take a left on to Fickett Street before meeting up with Route 77 in Scarborough. Cyclists will take Route 77 through Cape Elizabeth, get onto Spurwink Avenue, then Sawyer Street and return to the SMCC Transition Zone for a three-mile run.

The running route will go around Spring Point, up Slocum Drive to Pickett Street. Runners will go through Bug Light Park to the Greenbelt and return to SMCC’s athletic fields on Preble Street.

There is only one street closure planned: Davis Street will be shut down from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Bliss said there will be a celebration on the athletic fields that will include the music of Sly Chi, a Portland-based soul band, as well as massages and food.

Although registration is closed, organizers encourage spectators to line the route and cheer the athletes.

“Nobody cares who wins or loses,” Marchese said. “It’s about crossing the finish line together.”  

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or