Participants swim at the start of the survivors wave at the 2019 Tri for a Cure at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. Survivors are the first to start the triathlon, which raises money for the Maine Cancer Foundation. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Hundreds of women will swim, bike, and run this month to raise money for the Maine Cancer Foundation during the 14th annual Tri for a Cure triathlon. The event will be virtual for the second consecutive year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fundraiser, normally held at Southern Maine Community College, requires individual athletes and relay teams to complete a 1/3-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run. This year, athletes can complete the events between July 1-18.

Typically – with 1,200 and 1,300 women, including many cancer survivors, competing in the traditional in-person triathlon – it’s been difficult to draw as many participants to the virtual event, said race organizer Julia Bachelder.

“Many people have enthusiastically done virtual events, but getting people excited for another season of them has been a little bit more challenging,” said Bachelder, who said around 700 women are currently registered for the race. But Bachelder added that the virtual format could make the event more accessible by giving women the flexibility to split up the swimming, biking and running components of the race.

“I was very excited about it being virtual because I’m not a great runner,” said Falmouth resident Donna Flanigan, 59. “There’s like no pressure whatsoever.”

Flanigan, who usually competes in the swimming leg of the race as part of a relay team, did the entire triathlon near her home last year and plans to repeat the feat this July. She liked the flexibility to switch the order of her bike and swim legs, and to take a lunch break before walking the last portion in her neighborhood.


“I hope they keep the virtual component in there, because I think they’ll raise more money that way,” said Flanigan. “I can’t be the only one that feels like this.”

Raising money is a key goal of the event for competitors like Flanigan, who competed in the first Tri for a Cure in 2008 before being diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

The race, which raised nearly $1.3 million last year after topping $2 million in 2019, brings in over 50% of the Maine Cancer Foundation’s annual budget, according to Bachelder. The foundation funds programs dedicated to cancer prevention, screenings, and care across the state.

Normally, athletes must raise a minimum of $500 to race, but organizers waived the requirement this year (though racers must raise $250 to earn a T-shirt and medal).

Still, participants like Janet Gilchrist of Phillips are working to raise all they can. Gilchrist, a breast cancer survivor who has raced as an individual or team member each year since 2013, primarily raises money by collecting bottles from family and friends around the community.

“Wow, that seems like a lot,” Gilchrist remembered thinking about the fundraising minimum for her first Tri for a Cure in 2013. “But in the scheme of things, it was nothing compared to what I’m collecting now.”


Gilchrist estimated that she raised close to $3,000 in her best fundraising year, though she typically shares some of that money with other competitors who need help meeting the minimum.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “But I just keep reminding myself it’s for a good cause.”

That cause normally brings together a supportive community of athletes that Gilchrist called “amazing.”

“It’s like you’re all just one big family,” she said. “Even during the race, everybody is cheering you on, giving you encouragement.”

And while this year’s event is mostly virtual, live training clinics have allowed small groups of athletes to meet each other over the past several weeks. A celebratory 5K at SMCC on July 18 will offer a taste of the normal race to those who have met the fundraising minimum.

“It’s a way to have some small piece of that energy that we get in a normal year,” said Bachelder. “People seem to be very excited about that.”

Event registration will remain open through July 9, according to Bachelder, who said Tri for a Cure’s flexibility and supportive community make it the perfect first triathlon for prospective racers.

“It’s a big challenge for people,” she said. “But we make it as achievable as possible.”

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