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Duke Triathlon to Benefit Cancer Care

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Without breasts to impede her stride, Stacey Gordon feels free to swim, bike and run like the wind. "It's liberating not to have to wear a sports bra," said the 38-year-old triathlete from Birmingham, Ala.

A double mastectomy claimed her breasts, but left in their place a singular sense of purpose that compels her to succeed. "Cancer has taught me that life itself is an endurance race," said Gordon. "You endure your diagnosis, your chemotherapy, your surgery, and then you move forward with renewed energy and focus."

Indeed, she is now more determined than ever to compete in a full iron-distance triathlon, a grueling race that will test the limits of her stamina. More than just a mental and physical challenge, however, racing fulfills a basic human drive that cancer tried to squelch.

"Cancer is all about stopping your life in order to focus on the disease," Gordon said. "I want to inspire others not only to fight the disease, but not to let your life come to a screeching halt because of it. I couldn't think of one event that is more about not stopping than an iron-distance triathlon."

It is not just any triathlon that ignites Gordon's athletic spark. It is the Duke Blue Devil, in which she will be competing on Saturday, Sept. 14. The event is believed to be the first iron-distance triathlon ever to be hosted by a nonprofit organization -- the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center -- and one of a few such rigorous competitions in the country. Participants will run 26 miles, swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles in the Durham and Raleigh areas. All proceeds raised will benefit research and patient care at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The event will begin with the swim at Beaver Dam in Falls Lake, followed by a double-loop bike ride in Wake, Vance, Granville and Franklin counties, and a 26.2-mile marathon ending on the West Campus of Duke University.

Difficult though it may be, Gordon said nothing she feels during the race could be any worse than what she experienced during her cancer diagnosis and treatment.

She is among 350 athletes from 25 states who will descend on the Triangle from as far away as Quebec, Ontario, Texas, Michigan, California and Arizona. Some will race to honor loved ones who have cancer; others will race to celebrate their own victories over cancer. One woman will run in memory of a loved one lost in the Sept. 11 attack.

There is even a relay team of three Duke cancer doctors. They call themselves the "Iron Docs," a takeoff on the "Iron Dukes" sports club, yet none of them is a trained athlete, so they squeeze in training whenever time permits. While each of them has an interest in sports, they are primarily competing to benefit their patients and raise awareness for a cause to which they have devoted their careers.

"Clearly, if this event can generate momentum for cancer research and we can compete in honor of our cancer patients who struggle with life and death issues, then it's an important thing to do," said Erik Paulson, M.D., a Duke radiologist who will swim in the Duke Blue Devil. Paulson currently swims with the North Carolina Aquatic Club Master's Swim Team, although he does not participate in their competitions.

Mitch Anscher, M.D., a Duke radiation oncologist who will run the marathon, has been training in 95-degree heat to bring himself up to speed for the Duke Blue Devil. After work he manages five or six miles; on weekends, 10 miles or more. He trains with a fellow physician who helps spur him on, and he is working up to 15 miles per run.

Likewise, Duke geneticist Holly Dressman, Ph.D., is cycling 40 miles per ride to build up to the 112 miles she'll ride on Sept. 14. She isn't worried about finishing her leg of the race, as she grew up participating in sports and is naturally competitive.

Half the money raised by the event will help construct Hope Lodge, the first-ever pediatric housing facility for bone marrow and stem cell patients and their caregivers. The remaining proceeds will support research and innovative projects at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

More than 1,000 volunteers from the community and the N.C. Jaycees, longtime supporters of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, will make up the bulk of the volunteers staffing aid stations and assisting with the event. Set-Up, Inc., of Wilmington, N.C., is producing and directing the race, and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center development staff is hosting a finish-line celebration that will include live entertainment, food, beverages and various activities lasting until midnight.

For more information about the race, contact Dorrys McArdle at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center Development office, 919-667-2616.

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