Training hard, fighting cancer

`My mom's doing this every hour of every day, I can do it for an hour'

May 18, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Maggie Moraw, 26, has been training for Sunday's Columbia Triathlon for months.

Nearly every day - sometimes at 5:30 in the morning, sometimes in the evenings - she runs, bicycles or swims with other members of Team in Training, an organization that helps athletes prepare for competitions while raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The group provides unstinting support and encouragement, but during particularly grueling workouts, Moraw looks to her mother, Patricia Steimle, for inspiration.

Steimle, 55, who lives in Wisconsin, was diagnosed with lymphoma the day after Christmas. She completed chemotherapy in March and will find out in July whether she is cancer-free.

"A lot of times, when I've had a really hard workout - like last Thursday we had a pretty difficult run, we did some hill work - I just kept thinking about my mom, about her perseverance," Moraw said.

"She is letting the chemo drugs really take control and do what they need to do. And if she can persevere through that, I can have a hard workout. My mom's doing this every hour of every day, I can do it for an hour today."

Moraw will participate in the triathlon along with notables including Howard County Chief of Police William McMahon and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Fenty's father, Phil Fenty.

This year, the race - one of the oldest and most challenging triathlons in the country, thanks to Howard County's rolling hills - attracted its largest field, with more than 2,000 participants representing 34 states, said Robert Vigorito, Columbia Triathlon Organization's founder and the event's organizer.

The race features a 0.93-mile (1.5-kilometer) swim in chilly Centennial Lake (a "balmy" 68 degrees, according to Vigorito), to be followed by a 25.2-mile (41-kilometer) bike ride, and finishing with a 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) run.

Moraw is one of about 80 Columbia Triathlon participants who have prepared for the event with Team in Training and raised money for cancer research and support. The Columbia Triathlon, a springtime event since 1984, also supports local organizations such as the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Arc of Howard County and other organizations, Vigorito said.

Patti Harden Pearson, head coach of the Maryland chapter of Team in Training, said the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through the Columbia Triathlon and the EagleMan, another race organized by the Columbia Triathlon Association.

Participants must raise at least $2,500 to receive the training. Moraw said she raised more than $5,000. She sent a letter to friends and family, she said, "explaining how I lost my grandmother when I was 18 months old to lymphoma, that was my mom's mom. And now my mom is diagnosed with the same kind of lymphoma."

Some Team in Training participants, such as Missy Mulreany, 53, of Columbia, are cancer survivors. Mulreany said she had never been athletic, but after being diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in November 2003, she decided to make a change.

The cancer, which appears as a rash instead of a traditional lump, is aggressive and often misdiagnosed, Mulreany said. She caught it early, but still underwent intensive chemotherapy, mastectomies and radiation.

The radiation was particularly difficult, she said. "I thought about giving up and thought, no, I'm going to focus on something else," she said. "And what I'm going to focus on is doing something athletic for the first time in my life."

The day she made that decision, she said, a flier for Team in Training arrived in the mail. She signed on, and began training in January 2005. She took part in the 2005 Columbia Triathlon, raising more than $10,000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She said her bicycle tire went flat, but she still finished.

The next year, after months of training, she had to drop out because she broke her right foot in two places the day before the race. In fact, she had been helping out, distributing race packets, when she tripped over a bag containing race materials, she said.

This year, even though her daughter is getting married a week later and her mother is recovering from a heart attack, she is racing again.

"I'm really excited to do it, mostly because it's really life-affirming," she said. "I can run a 10K, I can bike 25 miles, I can swim in open water. It's amazing," she said.

She credits Team in Training with making it possible. "Talk about a supportive atmosphere," she said. "It's very transforming. It's an incredible organization."

Columbia Triathlon

When: 6:45 a.m. Sunday

Where: Centennial Park and western Howard County

Events: 0.93-mile swim in Centennial Lake, followed by a 25.2-mile bicycle ride (along Homewood, Folly Quarter, Triadelphia, Green Bridge, Linthicum roads) and a 6.2-mile run (in part around Centennial Lake).

Logistics: The park will be closed to cars at 7 a.m. Onlookers are encouraged to park nearby and walk to the park. Local roads won't be closed to cars, but bicycle traffic near the park and in western Howard County is expected to be heavy between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Maps of the bicycling and running courses are available at the Columbia Triathlon Association's Web site, www.tricolumbia.org.

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