Giving triathlon a try
Volunteering at the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life triathlon the past two years, Linda Aeschliman has had an up-close view of the absolute joy on the finish-line faces of the 400 women participating.
But Aeschliman also sees another side to the annual triathlon, geared to raise funds and awareness for the fight against cancer, which took the life of the event’s namesake 16 years ago at the age of 42.
As a nurse navigator at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s Breast Imaging Center, Aeschliman also has a front row view of what the annual triathlon means to the western Nevada County community at large, especially for those who need breast cancer screening, but can’t afford it.
Thanks to the annual triathlon, its board of directors, its army of volunteers and its triathletes who brave the swim, bike and run each year, the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Fund provides Nevada County patients with the testing they need.
“We talk to women every day who have no insurance and can’t afford a mammogram,” said Aeschliman. “It’s really all about the funding to get basic screening tests that can give them a bit of peace of mind. Sometimes, in some cases, we’ll get someone in who has a lump and they are really worried and want to get it checked out.
“I don’t know of any other entity in the Sacramento region that has the ability to do what we do because of this fund. I always tell them where the money comes from and they’re really touched.”
Barbara Schmidt Millar, a Grass Valley nurse, so touched the lives of her friends that when she died in 1995, 13 of them decided to dive into a triathlon in her honor. The event has grown to become one of Nevada County’s largest annual sporting events and also serves the community in ways its founders could not have foreseen just weeks after their friend’s death.
Nearly $400,000 has been raised for the Breast Imaging Center and more than $75,000 in scholarships has also been awarded to Nevada Union High School graduates seeking to continue their education in the healthcare field.
The result has been nearly 800 patients being able to undergo procedures such as screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies that they otherwise could not afford. And more than 30 young women have been helped through the Barbara Schmidt MIllar Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Aeschliman had heard about the triathlon, but until she went to work at the Breast Imaging Center, she had not ventured out to Cascade Shores on a September Sunday to see it in action. Once she did, however, she was inspired by the many cancer survivors competing, including some she had helped in her role as a nurse navigator.
“We try to be that bridge,” she said. “We try to help them navigate through that high anxiety time of ‘What do I do now? Where do I go?’
“It’s a privilege to be able to be with people at that time and offer a little bit of information to relieve even a little bit of that anxiety.”
This year, at the age of 49, she’s decided to actually take the plunge for the first time in the triathlon.
“I’ve been thinking I ought to try that. This year is just the year, I guess,” she said. “I only told my husband and my parents what I was thinking about and they weren’t allowed to tell anyone else.
“I am definitely not an athlete. I tell people I’m practicing out there, because if I say I’m training it implies that I’m an athlete. And I’m not.”
But over the past few months, she’s certainly become more athletic.
Faced with the prospect of swimming a half mile, biking 11 miles and then running three more, Aeschliman said there was certainly hesitation about signing up. But through first-timer clinics offered by the event’s organizers and volunteers, she saw it was possible. The triathlon, she said, is not so much of a competition as it is a personal challenge.
And for her, the challenge was apparent from the beginning.
“I live on a pretty hilly road and it’s about a mile to the county road and back,” she said. “The first time I rode it, I had to get off the bike … and I thought ‘Oh boy, what have I gotten into?’
“But it comes gradually, like ‘OK, let’s see if I can get all the way without getting off my bike and then venturing out a little farther.”
Thanks to a neighbor and his lap pool, she also gradually increased the distance she could swim in a single training session. Plowing through early frustrations with her physical limitations wasn’t easy, but when times got tough, she had the inspiration she needed through the patients she supported at work each day. On Sunday morning, she’ll also be on the start line with a loved one in mind, as her own mother is currently going through treatment for breast cancer.
“Every time I want to complain, I think about them,” Aeschliman said. “And now, I’m not gasping for breath when I’m swimming. The past three Friday mornings, I’ve gone out and done the swim, the bike and the run. So now I feel like ‘OK, I’m doing this and I’ll just do it again on Sunday.’
“I may be last, but that doesn’t matter. I’m just doing it.”
Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4240.
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