Wednesday, June 19, 2013
SOUTH PORTLAND - Sharon Leddy-Smart crossed the finish line of Sunday's Tri for a Cure triathlon somewhere in the middle of the pack. Her exact place didn't matter. Neither did her time. What mattered was who was waiting for her at the end.
Sharon Leddy-Smart of South Portland, a breast cancer survivor, cries as she is greeted at the finish line by her cousin, Samantha Smith of Falmouth, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
Cancer survivors pose for photos before the start of the Tri for a Cure on Sunday.
"I'm not a crier," she said later. "But I didn't expect that."
It's a safe guess that each of the more than 1,100 participants in the 5th annual Tri for a Cure fundraiser has been touched by cancer in some way. Many are survivors. Some have loved ones battling the disease. Others have lost loved ones to the disease. They all have a story.
Leddy-Smart's story began five years ago, when the South Portland mother of five was recruited to participate in the cancer research fundraiser by a friend who helped organize the event.
"I usually say 'I'll try anything,' and I wanted to support my friends," she said.
The Tri for a Cure features an ocean swim of one-third of a mile, a 15-mile bike ride through South Portland and a 5K run that ends on the Southern Maine Community College campus.
Leddy-Smart, 45, trained for weeks with her friends and completed that inaugural race in 2008.
"I think it was harder than I thought," she said. "The distances individually are manageable, but when you put them together, that's when it gets tough."
Her experience was enough to convince her to sign up the next year. Like before, she trained in advance of the race. Two weeks before the event, though, she went to the doctor. The cause of the race she had been training for was now her cause. She had breast cancer.
"I didn't think I would be able to do the race that year, but I did," Leddy-Smart said. "It was a strange feeling, though, because at that point I didn't know what my path would look like. I didn't know what I was up against. I was participating with all these survivors and it seemed like they were in a tunnel and I was so far away."
A few weeks after her second race in 2009, Leddy-Smart had a bilateral mastectomy to remove the cancer from her breasts. Radiation and chemotherapy followed and, eventually, reconstructive surgery. As she progressed with her treatment, she looked forward to the Tri for a Cure every year as a source of inspiration. Whatever she was going through, there was always someone else involved with the event who had it worse.
"I tell people that it's really just a chapter in your life," she said. "It will pass. And when it does, you come out stronger, you have a better appreciation for life, for your friends and family."
The hardest part of her diagnosis was telling her children. The older ones understood, but her twins, who were 4 years old at the time, had a harder time.
"I told them everything that needs to be done is happening. I said there would be days where I wouldn't feel wonderful and won't have energy to do the things we normally do, but those days will pass, we'll get it through it as a family."
One day during Leddy-Smart's recovery stands out. She was getting ready for work, brushing her teeth and putting on makeup. She had lost most of her hair to chemotherapy and didn't look like herself. Her daughter, Ava, who was 5 at the time, was in the bathroom with her.
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A swim near Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland is the first portion of Tri for a Cure.
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Tri for a Cure participants make their way down Fort Road during the bicycle portion of the event Sunday.