As July 29 approaches, many of the women planning to race in this year’s Tri for a Cure have attended clinics and stepped up their training in preparation for the big event. But at Wright Express in South Portland, the 25 women who will be participating have been training for months, following a training regimen designed to get them over the finish line on race day.
“We have had monthly meetings in house to talk about what to expect,” says Stella Hill, of Windham, who will be doing the biking and running parts of the race while a partner does the one-third mile swim. “It’s a huge benefit to have employees to share information with.”
This year, Wright Express is the lead or “presenting” sponsor of the fifth annual Tri for a Cure. The company has donated $50,000 to the cause, which, according to Maine Cancer Foundation development director Peter King “sets them apart from the pack,” and gives evidence to their commitment to their employees, the community, and cancer research.
“They’ve been involved from the beginning,” says King. “Ninety-nine percent of their business is outside of Maine, so they’re not doing it for the advertising. It’s about their employees and it’s about being involved in the community.”
Wright Express, which has its headquarters in South Portland, is a provider of information management systems to more than 350,000 customers worldwide. The Tri for a Cure has been a “big deal” to the corporation since the race’s inception, thanks in part to Melissa Smith, president of Wright Express of the Americas. Smith has been a participant and a volunteer in each of the last four races.
“Tri for a Cure is an important event for me because it highlights the strength of women,” says Smith. “To witness the perseverance of the survivors and their loyal supporters who also compete alongside them is truly inspiring.”
Smith says the Tri for a Cure also fits into its mission to support healthy lifestyles among its employees. Working for the presenting sponsor allows those Wright Express employees who didn’t qualify for the race through individual donation incentives or through the lottery to participate as part of the Wright Express team. That motivated Hill to learn to swim so that she could participate this year.
Hill, who is in her 40s, is an accomplished biker and runner, having completed the recent Tour De Cure and the Maine Half Marathon. But, growing up in northern Maine, she’d never learned to swim and she wasn’t all that interested in braving the cold waters of Casco Bay anyway.
“For a few years, they also had a ‘duathlon’ (where you run, bike, and then run again). When they took that away last year, I volunteered, but I really missed competing,” she says.
Hill also missed the feeling she got standing on the starting line surrounded by people who’d been touched by cancer in some way. Hill has had no direct experience with cancer, but she says a close friend and the friend’s mother both went through cancer last year. While her friend’s mother died, her friend is a survivor and will be swimming in the Tri with a running/biking partner. That spurred Hill to learn to swim in January in hopes that she would feel confident enough to brave that portion of the race. She’s mastered the basics, but she still plans on sharing the race with a swim partner. She is quite sure she’ll be ready for all three legs next year.
“My friend and her mother suffered so much with cancer,” explains Hill. “I saw what they went through and said, ‘Wow. If they can do that, I can suffer through 15 minutes in the water.’”
Smith, who will participate again this year, says that ending the suffering of all cancer patients by helping to find a cure is a major reason for the company’s support. Wright Express, she says, considers the Tri for a Cure an important vehicle for raising funds to further that cause.
”With more than $3.2 million having been raised to date, this event has grown to the point that we can envision Maine becoming a nationally recognized cancer research incubator,” says Smith. “(The Tri for a Cure) plays a critical role in supporting the research that will one day make cancer a thing of the past.”