Celebrating life one mile at a time | TheUnion.com

Celebrating life one mile at a time

Pat Donnelly knows the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life triathlon has made a huge impact on the western Nevada County community.

But she’s not sure everyone else understands that the annual women’s triathlon touches more than the lives of those who compete in Cascade Shores area each year.

On Sept. 14, there likely will be around 400 women who swim, bike and run in support of the event, which is geared to raise funds and awareness for the fight against cancer. Portion of the proceeds, which support the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Fund, are directed to the Breast Imaging Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

But Donnelly said, there are actual triathletes who have arrived at the imaging center, not realizing that they could benefit from the very event in which they participated.

Yet, if they are like others who cannot afford annual mammograms, they can still undergo the exam thanks to their own actual support of the triathlon.

“I think we’ve had three in the past year, who said ‘I’ve run that triathlon! I had no idea,'” said Donnelly, breast imaging coordinator. “They knew the triathlon raises money for breast cancer, but they don’t retain the information at the time because they aren’t impacted themselves at the moment.”

“But when they are (impacted), they’re thrilled to have actually contributed,” Donnelly said. “I’ve actually seen it come full circle, with quite a surprise to them.”

Since the Celebration of Life began supporting the Breast Imaging Center in 1998, more than 700 women and two men have been able to receive cancer screening that they could not afford themselves thanks to the triathlon.

“… thanks to Barbara and her family and friends,” Donnelly added.

Barbara Schmidt Millar died of cancer in 1995 at age 42. The Celebration of Life Triathlon is a tribute to her memory. But the event wasn’t always such a large one.

In fact, the first year 13 friends completed the triathlon and raised a total of $45. That’s a far cry from the $47,000 raised by the 2007 triathlon.

More than $320,000 has been raised in total, with 3,286 athletes participating.

In addition to the Breast Imaging Center, the triathlon has also funded 27 scholarships, totaling $62,000 for women pursuing college educations in the healthcare industry.

“I think the third year, when we opened up to the public, that’s probably when I realized ‘Oh, this could be something,'” said Cathy Anderson-Meyers, a close friend of Barbara’s and the event’s organizer. “But I never envisioned it going 14 years. Now I wonder how long this will continue to happen.”

Last week, Anderson-Meyers was worried about a potential low turnout for the 14th annual event. Just 157 triathletes had registered as of last Friday, but she was pleased to learn that 86 more had registered in the past two days. The deadline for entry, however, has been extended to Sept. 13, the day before the event.

Donnelly said that many of the women who benefit from the triathlon’s support are under the age of 40, when many insurance policies begin to provide such funding. And, she said, many don’t have insurance at all.

“I think because there are more and more findings of young people with breast cancer that it has heightened worries and anxieties if they find something in the breast,” Donnelly said. “Nine times out of 10, it’s not cancer, but they don’t know because they don’t think they can afford (an exam).

“It’s a tremendous relief of that anxiety, especially about the financial worries, when they find out about the fund.”

To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or call 477-4240.

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