The 19th annual Barbara Schmidt Millar “Celebration of Life” triathlon that takes place Sunday not only honors those who have battled, fought and died from cancer, but also connects the community and funds mammograms.
Sara Guzik, a teacher at Echo Ridge Christian School, will participate for the eighth year, in honor of her mother, grandmother and best friend, all of whom died of the disease.
The physical demand of the triathlon is not her greatest joy, but the ability to honor those she lost make the experience more than worth it, she said.
Echo Ridge Christian will have a booth at the finish line to hand out water and cookies to triathlon participants.
“I wanted my school to be a part because we do community service every month, and I think it is a great community event to be involved in,” Guzik said.
The event is open to women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels and includes a half-mile swim, 11-mile bike ride and three-mile run. Participants can enter individually or as a two- or three-person team.
Boys and men attend the event and cheer on the participants, providing encouragement, unlike any other event Guzik has attended, she said.
“I’ve been to many triathlons and this one is very different,” she said. “There are families up there with men cheering for their wives, which is very encouraging … multiple breast cancer survivors in the race and older women encouraging the younger women.
“There are always those who are very competitive, but that’s not the spirit there. The spirit is very much of our community and lifting others up. That’s why this event is so important.”
The funds from the event contribute to the Women’s Imaging Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and are used to provide free mammograms to women who cannot afford them. The funds also go to the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to female graduates of Nevada Union High School who pursue an education in the healthcare profession.
The event has raised $485,000 since its inception in 1995, when $45 was raised, said event director Nancy Avilla.
The first year, 13 women participated. Last year, 430 women registered and about 400 are expected this year, as well, Avilla said.
Mammograms were first provided using the funds in 1998, when 12 were covered. In 2012, 148 were paid for.
The event was chosen as the Old Barn Self Storage e-waste nonprofit for September, so any e-waste donated will also benefit the triathlon funds, Avilla said.
“I am one of four sisters, and with my close friends and mother and all the women in my life, the odds are against all of us,” she said. “I want the research. I want the resources to be there so that we’re fighting the battle before the battle truly begins.” Guzik lost multiple loved ones just a couple years apart, as her grandmother died in 1998 after battling breast cancer for six years, her mother from Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2002 and her best friend, who discovered she had an aggressive form of breast cancer after a mammogram, in 2006.
“It’s a huge motivation for me because when I first started training to do the triathlon, I had to really push myself,” said Guzik, who is a swimmer. “I highly dislike running and I was quite emotional on many runs. I thought, ‘No, I need to not complain and make up excuses,’ because I’m alive and I have no excuse.”
Guzik was almost unable to participate in the run after a snowboarding and car accident that left her with a broken collarbone and bleeding brain, but she has since healed. Her neurologist gave her clearance to participate in June.
“I haven’t had the time to train like I wanted to but to be up there participating is a great thing,” she said. “You can’t really put it into words until you’re up there.”
Guzik recalled times when she saw women dismount from their bikes during the challenging and hilly course and walk and talk with others. She remembers the countless women wearing shirts personalized with photographs of loved ones.
“It is very touching to me, especially when you see the mothers participating in memory of their daughters. That’s tough,” Guzik said. “Yet they’re very positive and encouraging everyone else.”
Completing the event always gives Guzik a sense of accomplishment, she said, adding, “It keeps the memory very much alive for the women who were a huge part of my life.”
The event began as an informal way for friends to honor Barbara Schmidt Millar, who beat breast cancer, had a son a few years later, and died of a sarcoma in the brachial plexus when her son was only 4. The triathlon became a memorial event when Millar died just one week before the race at the age of 42.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
*This story has been changed to reflect that Barbara Schmidt Millar died of a sarcoma in the brachial plexus when her son was only 4.