March 10, 2010

Triathletes strive to find, fund cure

ANN S

— By . KIM

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Sunday, August 9, 2009...The annual Tri for a Cure all women's triathlon held at SMCC in South Portland. An elated Lisa Kelly, from Hampden, raises her arms in trimph after finishing the event.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Sunday, August 9, 2009...The annual Tri for a Cure all women's triathlon held at SMCC in South Portland. Sandra Day (left), from Portland, and her friend Andrea Wedge, of Scarborough share a hug after completing the race.

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — As she swam, biked and ran toward the finish line, 39-year-old Jennifer Rohde of Cumberland was trying to channel her mother.

Jill Thompson died of adenocarcinoma of unspecified origin -- a rare and aggressive form of cancer -- six years ago at the age of 56. Rohde was pregnant with the first of her four children at the time, and her mother did not live to see Rohde become a mother herself.

Since her mother's death, cancer has intruded on Rohde's family again and again. Both her stepfather, Craig Cullen of Falmouth, and her father, Steve Humphreys of Suffield, Conn., have been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Rohde was among the 770 women who participated Sunday in Tri for a Cure, a triathlon that raises money for cancer research. Some of the women were cancer survivors; others had friends or family affected by the disease; and still others were drawn by the combination of challenge and good cause.

This year's event was expected to raise more than $400,000 for the Maine Cancer Foundation. Rohde was the top fundraising athlete, pulling in more than $6,000. A lawyer-turned-full-time-mom, Rohde raised small amounts of money from a large number of people, many whose lives have also been touched by cancer.

''I owe it to everybody to work as hard as I can,'' Rohde, who had been rising at 4 a.m. each morning to train.

The sprint triathlon required participants to swim one-third of a mile by Spring Point, ride 15 miles around Cape Elizabeth and South Portland and finish off with a three-mile run.

The athletes' supporters found vantage points of the course around Southern Maine Community Center. They sat on the Spring Point breakwater, lined up on the walls of Fort Preble and perched on the hill above. They offered encouragement with cowbells and homemade signs.

Joanne Orr, a South Portland emergency room nurse, carried a boot-shaped signed that read, ''Kick it strong girl,'' and had her friend Wendy Haskell's race number -- 318 -- on it.

''That can apply to any single woman here,'' Orr said.

Haskell, also an ER nurse, said she was motivated by the strength and courage of patients she's cared for. Haskell, who's 57, said she wanted to be part of the sea of women united in the same cause.

''I'm really moved by the whole thing, the spirit of it,'' she said.

About 100 cancer survivors wearing light pink swim caps made up the first wave of athletes.

Kim Lynch, a 49-year-old registered nurse from Wiscasset, was a little nervous before hitting the water. But she thought about her sister, Terri Lemieux, who lost her life to melanoma five years ago.

''Once I get in the water, I'm good,'' said Lynch, who was diagnosed with the same disease seven years ago but has been OK since surgery. ''I figure my sister's watching over me.''

It was a cancer survivor who first broke the finish line tape. Anne Wilkinson of Falmouth also came in first overall, with a time of 1 hour, 13 minutes and 15 seconds.

Wilkinson, 42, was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago and had to undergo extensive surgery. A competitive swimmer in college, she found that the disease did not dull her drive. The goal of a first-place finish kept Wilkinson, who worked in finance before a layoff this year, pushing throughout the race.

''We've worked so hard to be here,'' she said. ''Now's the fun part.''

Rohde finished her race and was met by a clan of supporters wearing ''I'm here to cheer for Jenny'' signs.

Humphreys, her father, was part of the cheering section. His diagnosis in June further motivated Rohde in her fundraising efforts.

With an oxygen tank and wheelchair handy, Humphreys spoke of how proud he was of her.

''She's helping me through it,'' he said. ''We're helping each other through it.''

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Sunday, August 9, 2009...The annual Tri for a Cure all women's triathlon held at SMCC in South Portland. Kathy Leavis, of Portland, gets a congratulatory hug from fellow triathlete Renee Barthelman of South Portland after she crossed the finish line of the race.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Sunday, August 9, 2009...The annual Tri for a Cure all women's triathlon held at SMCC in South Portland. Anne Wilkinson, of Falmouth and a cancer survivor, was the winner in this year's triathlon.

 


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