For the past 11 years, Chris Woods has stood on the sideline of the Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure, cheering on the race’s all-female participants with a pair of cowbells.

But on Sunday morning, Woods will swap her cowbells for a wet suit and join the 1,300 women who will tackle the triathlon’s one-third mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and 3-mile run.

“I’m tempted to put my cowbells in a bag with a note out there for the person who’ll be volunteering (at my station),” said Woods, 59, of Portland. “I have to figure out how I can do that.”

Chris Woods, left, of Portland has been a volunteer with Tri for a Cure for 11 years, but this year will take on the swim-bike-run challenge. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Ph

Tri for a Cure will be held for the 12th consecutive year on the campus of Southern Maine Community College. Since 2008, 13,102 participants have raised nearly $14 million for the Maine Cancer Foundation, which supports cancer research and prevention in Maine.

Last year’s event drew 1,300 participants and more than 500 volunteers, and raised a little more than $2 million.

Woods, whose mother is a cancer survivor, volunteered at the first Tri for a Cure in 2008 as a way to get involved with the Maine Cancer Foundation while her children were away at summer camp. But after years of cheering from the sideline, the stories of the participants motivated her to try the race herself.

“Seeing the women come through (the finish line) who have ‘survivor’ on their backs – they’re not all super athletes, but everyone has a story for why they’re doing it,” said Woods.

Although she has previously participated in road and bike races, Woods never thought a triathlon was in the cards for her.

Watching Tri for a Cure year after year convinced her otherwise.

“So many people fight so hard going through cancer, and I thought, ‘I can’t even swim in the ocean for a third of a mile,” said Woods. “(That thought) keeps you motivated.”

Woods has raised nearly $3,000 ahead of the race, well above the $500 fundraising minimum for participants.

To prepare for the race’s three disciplines, she has been training with a group of Tri for a Cure participants at sheJAMs, an all-female triathlon club based in Portland.

While the support of her training group keeps her motivated on a day-to-day basis, Tri for a Cure’s larger goal is never far from her mind.

“The overall motivation is to get rid of cancer,” she said.

Novice triathletes like Woods will be joined by more seasoned participants, both survivors and supporters alike.

Mari Miya, 70, of Freeport will be participating for the 12th straight year. Miya was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in 2004.

“This event changes women’s lives,” said Miya, who has raised almost $3,500 this year. “I can’t tell you how many people come and tell me how they’ve lost weight, they’ve gotten fit, they’ve learned to bike. It’s just one of those events that women commit to and then support each other along the way.”

Miya said it changed her life.

“When I first started tris, I really didn’t know how to swim. I first saw the (marker) buoys and thought, ‘I could drown out there.’”

Twelve years later, swimming is part of her daily training routine.

“(It) has changed women’s lives by helping them do something many of them thought they could never do,” Miya said. “(It) really empowered them.”

And although Miya’s pace has lagged a little bit throughout the years, her motivation has not.

“I look around me (at the start line), and so many survivors are young. I have to keep doing this because I don’t want to keep seeing young people out here,” said Miya. “That’s why I tri.”

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