UNITING AND INSPIRING: Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon set for Sunday | TheUnion.com

UNITING AND INSPIRING: Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon set for Sunday

In the beginning it was a way for some to grieve and honor a friend who had passed away. Twenty-one years later it still serves the same purpose, but it has also become a source of inspiration within this foothill community.

It began in 1995 after Barbara Schmidt Millar, a beloved community member, wife and mother, passed away at the age of 42 after a long battle with cancer.

Thirteen women close to Schmidt Millar decided they wanted to honor her by running a triathlon the day after her memorial service.

What those 13 women started 21 years ago has blossomed into a community event that unites, inspires and benefits so many.

The Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon is celebrating its 22nd running this Sunday with hundreds of women set to brave the sprint course that traverses Cascade Shores.

“I hope (participants) understand they are a different woman at the finish, than the woman they were at the start,” Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life founder Cathy Anderson-Meyers said in 2015. “It’s like a cocoon opening and an amazing butterfly finding her wings at the finish. So many women have gone on from this event to accomplish other athletic feats such as marathons, ultra distance runs, and olympic, international and Ironman Triathlon competitions. They have also accomplished new business ventures, raised families, and have become someone they never thought they could be.”

Giving back

The event has grown from 13 women to nearly 400 at times in its history, and has contributed more than $100,000 in scholarship funds. Since 1999, the Barbara Schmidt Millar Scholarship Fund has allocated a total $135,000 for 53 Nevada County high school graduates who sought a degree in the health care field.

Elizabeth Dreher, who was the first to receive a scholarship from the Barbara Schmidt Millar Scholarship Fund back in 1999, is now a member of the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon Steering Committee.

“When they reached out to support me, it planted a seed,” said Dreher, who will be running her very first Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon Sunday. “I knew one day I wanted to give back.”

Dreher, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Chico State and a masters degree in clinical nutrition from Oregon Health and Science University, said she knows first hand the difference community support can make, and that’s why she is thrilled to be a part of the steering committee.

“I knew this (opportunity) was for me and I jumped on it,” she said.

The triathlon also gives back to the community in other ways. Through 2015, the Celebration of Life Triathlon has also paid for 1,282 mammograms and 1,124 additional procedures at the Women’s Imaging Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, said event director Nancy Avilla.

“It’s such a special event, because it reaches out to so many people,” she said.

Back in the water

The women only triathlon had fallen on rough times in recent years. In 2014, the triathlon was canceled due to poor air quality conditions caused by the King Fire. In 2015, the triathlon switched to a duathlon format due to unusually low water levels at Scotts Flat Lake.

This year, Avilla is happy to announce the race will once again be a triathlon.

“We are so excited about that,” Avilla said. “And, the water temperature has been wonderful.”

Avilla added the past two years have been tough on the event and it has seen a bit of a drop in participation, but hopes that with the return of the swimming aspect, numbers will again start to pick up. She also said despite the 2014 cancellation and the altered format in 2015, the support from the community and sponsors has been unwavering.

“There were two really tough years, but in those tough years our sponsors and the Cascade Shores community were still so supportive,” she said.

With the swim back in play, the event is back to its intended form. The race begins with a ½ mile swim in Scotts Flat Lake, followed by an 11 mile bike ride before closing with a 2.8 mile run to the finish line. There is also a Barbara Schmidt Millar 5K Walk/Run that coincides with the triathlon.

Avilla, who will be stepping down as event director after this year’s running, encourages all women to participate and invites everyone to come support the race and its cause. She added it only took experiencing it for herself to get hooked.

Catching the BSM bug

“My story with the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon is 16 years ago I did it as an athlete… As I was doing the running portion of the triathlon, a woman reached out and gave me a high five and she thanked me,” Avilla said. “It was something that was my epiphany. I knew I needed to do a lot more.”

Avilla has been volunteering her time and energy to the event and the cause for the past 15 years, including 5 years as the event director.

“For me, this has been an awesome event and an amazing experience,” Avilla said. “I feel like my heart and soul have been in this triathlon for so many reasons.”

Avilla said she is looking forward to running in the event next year.

Taking over for Avilla is Vanessa Hale.

Hale, like Avilla, was inspired after her first experience with the event. A year after watching a friend compete, Hale was swimming, biking and running in the event the very next year. This year she has been working side-by-side with Avilla.

“I think it’s super empowering to women in our community to have an all-women event,” said Hale. “The camaraderie and the support that women get from this event is like no other. It’s something that you need to be there to see and feel.”

Hale said she hopes to continue the tradition and energy the event has fostered as well as help it grow in numbers.

“I hope we can continue to move it forward and grow it back to where it was before those hard years,” she said. “We want to get women excited about it again and show women that even if they haven’t done a triathlon before or even watched one before, its something you can start training for in spring, early summer and be able to do it.”

Know and go

The Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon will be holding an expo today at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Building 2, where there will be additional info, registration, a raffle, a first timers clinic and a history of the event presentation.

The race gets started at 9 a.m. at the Cascade Shores boat launch.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

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