SOUTH PORTLAND – Ellie Bickmore stood up from her wheelchair on Sunday and cheered on her sister as she finished a one-third mile swim at Spring Point Head Light.

Bickmore, who has cancer, watched her sister, Susan Downey of Cumberland, compete in the Tri for a Cure, a triathlon at Southern Maine Community College that raises funds for the Maine Cancer Foundation. Downey competed to honor two of her sisters who have cancer, and another sister who died of breast cancer five years ago.

“I’m so honored to be here and see all these women who care so much about cancer,” Bickmore said. “They tell me I don’t have long to live. Next year, I might not be here.”

As Downey ran to the transition area, her mother, Hattie Bickmore, picked up the swim gear she threw toward her.

“Nothing’s changed I’m still picking up after her,” Hattie Bickmore said, laughing. “It’s unbelievable. This gives me so much hope. The thing you have to remember is that every day you have with them is a good day.”

Downey was one of 885 women who competed in the third annual triathlon, which sold out in less than eight minutes and raised over $900,000.

An estimated 85 percent of the women who competed in Sunday’s event had never done a triathlon. The women swam for a third of a mile from the beach at Spring Point Light, bicycled for 15 miles through South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, and ran for 3 miles. Some women competed in a relay team, and either swam, biked or ran a leg in the race.

Julie Marchese, who founded the triathlon in 2008, said she was inspired to start the race after competing in an all-women’s triathlon in Massachusetts. Marchese is a cancer survivor. She said for some women, the race is a calling to be better than themselves. She said it’s a life-changing experience that inspires hope among survivors.

“It comes from this emphasis on sisterhood,” Marchese said. “I had a woman call me whose dad died on Tuesday from cancer. She competed today. being here, it gives them hope. It’s truly amazing to see.”

The crowd of thousands swelled across the campus, and along the breakwater at Spring Point Light. Some women painted the names of their loved ones across their faces.

Others in the crowd, like George Denney, shed tears. He stood near the finish line and embraced Anne Wilkinson, the winner of the triathlon and a cancer survivor. She ran in memory of his wife, Kate Denney, who died of cancer in February.

“It’s an emotional moment,” Denney said. “To honor Kate this way I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Joanne Jordan, 44, of Poland hugged her mother Pat before the start of the race. Jordan competed to honor her mother, who is a cancer survivor.

“I’ve been surrounded by some amazing and empowering women over the past year, who made me believe I can do anything,” Jordan said. “I want my victory to be every woman’s victory. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

It was the first triathlon for Anne Taylor, 40, of Cape Elizabeth, who competed in memory of her aunt, who died of brain cancer in 2008. Taylor is also a nurse at Mercy Hospital in the oncology unit.

“I’m doing this for the survivors and for my patients who passed away,” Taylor said.

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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