Tri for a Cure

FEATURE- July 2011
By Maura Ewing
Photographs by Cara Slifka

Celebrate survival. Spread hope. Honor loved ones lost. In the four short years since its creation, Tri for a Cure has become one of the most popular events in the region. And it's making an impact in the fight against cancer, one pledge at a time.

On July 31 over a thousand women will converge on the Southern Maine Community College campus in South Portland, ready to push their physical boundaries in the name of cancer research. Together the women will bravely swim one-third of a mile in frigid ocean water, pound over 3 miles of pavement, and pedal through 15 miles of South Portland and Cape Elizabeth neighborhoods. Thousands of fans are expected to cheer them on, as they have for the past three annual races. Tri for a Cure is one of the state’s top fundraisers, and it’s quickly becoming a Maine tradition.


Race founder and lead organizer Julie Marchese overcame breast cancer seven years ago. To celebrate her recovery, she raced a triathlon in Massachusetts and was blown away by how alive it made her feel. “I wasn’t an athlete even before I had cancer, and so to be able to cross the finish line was an incredible exhilaration. It changed my life,” she says.

Marchese brought her endorphin- spiked energy back to the Maine Cancer Foundation, where she sat on the board of directors, and proposed that the organization replace its ailing annual golf tournament with an all-women’s triathlon. “They kind of looked at me like: ‘What are you crazy? Who would do it?’” she says with a laugh. “We thought if we could get 250 women who would swim in that ocean we’d be really lucky,” she says.

What Marchese and the Maine Cancer Foundation’s board didn’t realize was that women in Maine were ready and waiting to hit the streets to combat cancer. “We found the right cause, the right place, and the right time. So many people have been touched by cancer in some way,” Marchese says. They filled all 500 slots in six weeks, and the grassroots fundraising work by race organizers and participants raised seven times their goal, netting more than $250,000. Last year the event raised an incredible $850,000.

Passion for the event has spread, and this year all 850 slots were filled four minutes after the registration page was posted. “You have to purposely put it on your calendar or you miss it,” Marchese says. The Maine Cancer Foundation distributes 85 percent of the funds to cancer research and the rest to cancer-patient support programs. “All the money the women raise supports people living and working right here in Maine, so it’s good for the community on many levels,” she says.

From a financial point of view, it would seem logical for Marchese and the Maine Cancer Foundation to expand the fundraiser or create multiple races across the state. But the most important elements of the day can’t be quantified. “We don’t want people to be treated like they’re just a number. We want each and every participant to know how special she is. This is more than a fundraiser—it’s a day of support.”