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Updated: July 17, 2023

'More than a race': Rain-curtailed Tri for a Cure raises $1.9M to fight cancer in Maine

Two swimmers emerging from the ocean Photo / Jim Neuger Cancer survivors emerge from the water at Sunday's Tri for a Cure fundraiser.
Athlete on bike Photo / Jim Neuger Marjorie Haney of South Portland nears the end of the bicycling segment.
Runner in action Photo / Jim Neuger Anne Finn of South Portland was the first finisher
Swimmer having wetsuit removed Photo / Jim Neuger Volunteers stripped off wetsuits as swimmers moved to the bicycling stage.
Swimmers wading into the water Photo / Jim Neuger Cancer survivors - denoted by the pink caps - were the first into the water.
Crowd of swimmers Crowd of swimmers in wetsuits and swim caps More than 850 women signed up for the Tri for a Cure.
Triathletes holding up numbers Photo / Jim Neuger The top 10 fundraisers display the total amount raised.

Clad in wet suits and pink bathing caps, dozens of cancer survivors plunged into the ocean Sunday morning in South Portland in a declaration of war against the deadly disease.

Raising funds in the Maine Cancer Foundation's Tri for a Cure triathlon, the swimmers were followed by hundreds of fellow female athletes, each group donning a different cap hue from lime green to red for a burst of color under a dark sky and drizzling rain.

Stretching, dancing, laughter and tears made for a high-energy kick-off overlooking Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. More than 850 participants raised more than $1.9 million in the 15th annual Tri, which was curtailed due to rain. The fundraising total, as of July 20, includes money raised from athletes opting to do the triathlon virtually.

Founded in 2008 by Julie Marchese and Abby Bliss, Tri for a Cure is Maine’s biggest triathlon, comprising a swim of a third of a mile, a 15-mile bike ride, and a three-mile run. Since its debut, the event has raised more than $20 million for cancer prevention, early detection and access to care in Maine.

Among repeat participants, Lynn Alexander of Buxton captained the “Badass Bosses” team in her fifth Tri though first as a relay member.

“I can actually soak up the atmosphere,” the 51-year-old said before swimming in memory of her mother, who died of cancer when Alexander was a teen. 

Kate Rogers of Lisbon Falls, the “Unbreakable” team captain, was also honoring her mom, a cancer survivor, by swimming and running in her sixth Tri weeks before her 27th birthday.

Not a fan of pouring rain, she remarked that “a light drizzle would be nice.”

While light precipitation didn’t dampen the mood, a tornado warning prompted organizers to curtail the biking for safety reasons. Spectators and athletes scurried to the running route to cheer friends and loved ones.

On stage at the opening ceremony, Maine Cancer Foundation Executive Director Ray Ruby said that “from this view, there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.”

WEX Inc., a Portland-based financial technology company with a global footprint, was the event's sponsor, its logo emblazoned on athletes’ swim caps and arms.

"Let's make today great," CEO Melissa Smith told fellow triathletes, including several from her company. 

Perennial pep talk

As swimmers neared the water, cancer survivor and triathlete Meredith Strang Burgess offered her perennial pre-natation pep talk, moving her arms like an orchestra conductor to lead each group in a chant of “I … am … an … amazing …. swimmer!” 

Always one of the top 10 fundraisers donning the No. 1 bib, the 67-year-old marketing executive is a breast cancer survivor who is the Tri’s ceremonial last finisher ever year.

“Cancer needs to stop,” she told Mainebiz before an impromptu phone selfie. “We need to stop it in its tracks.” 

Runner with a medal
Photo / Jim Neuger
Anne LaPierre of Gorham after crossing the finish line.

Triathlete Anne LaPierre was there to do just that, more than three decades after losing her dad to colon cancer. Her mom is a two-time cancer survivor, currently in remission from cervical cancer after two surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy, according to her donor page.

“It’s more than a race for me,” the 48-year-old from Gorham said after crossing the finish line, a pink Tri medal around her neck to remember the day.

Editor's note: Fundraising information updated.

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