Last October Karen Nitkin was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The next month, she signed up to compete in the 6th annual Athleta Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon.
“I thought I better save my spot, and I’m so glad I did,” Nitkin said Sunday at Centennial Park. Her final breast cancer treatment was three weeks ago and Sunday she joined 2,400 women the triathlon, consisting of a .62 mile swim, a 17.5 mile bike course and a 3.4 mile run.
Throughout her treatment, Nitkin tried to run. On days when she couldn’t run, she went for long walks. As her treatment continued and she regained strength she began to bike and swim.
“I just tried every day to do one or two of those things,” Nitkin said. And on Sunday she did all three.
Organizers and participants insisted that one doesn’t need to be a well-honed athlete to enjoy participating in the race.
“I would encourage anybody to do this,” said Janelle Mackintyre who has been competing in Columbia Triathlon events for over 25 years.
She competed alongside her daughters Sunday, which marked 20-year-old Riley’s fourth race and 13-year-old Devin’s first.
Mackintyre said there were support groups available to help women prepare as well as the option to be part of a relay team and only do one leg of the race.
The nonprofit group TriColumbia organized the triathlon. And though it is about competition, it’s also a place for women and girls ages 12 – 71, from all backgrounds, to come together and challenge themselves.
At the end of the race there is a $4,999 pool of prize money, but for many of the competitors this race is simply about working hard and crossing the finish line.
“During the dress rehearsal a few weeks ago, I sat in the field at Centennial Park and listened to some very inspirational stories. From cancer survivors to amputees, everyone present had a personal story of triumph and endurance,” said Amy Thompson, one of this year’s competitors.
She ran on a charity team for Athletes Serving Athletes. ASA is a non-profit group that allows disabled and at-risk youth in the community to participate in competitions with able-bodied athletes.
Thompson said she was inspired to help the cause by her own son Jake who has special needs. He got to race in the Port to Fort 5k earlier this year with ASA.
Aside from the ASA team, 15 other charities will benefit from funds raised at Sunday’s event.
“I think it’s an amazing cause for our community,” she said.