SOUTH PORTLAND — Of the thousands of spectators at Sunday’s 10th annual Tri for a Cure triathlon, the Lesniak family stood out.

Clad in oversized foam cowboy hats and pink tutus, they attracted stares and compliments from strangers.

“We try to blend in,” said Kyle Lesniak, whose sister, Dana Lesniak of Portland, competed in the event on the Southern Maine Community College campus. Kyle traveled from Denver, Colorado, to support Dana. “Our mom passed away from cancer years ago, so we’re here for her.”

An estimated event-high of 1,300 participants from 24 different states competed in the all-women triathlon benefitting the Maine Cancer Foundation (MCF) – a nonprofit dedicated to reducing cancer incidence and mortality rates in Maine. The race involved a 1/3-mile swim in Portland Harbor, a 15-mile bike ride through South Portland and a 3-mile run to Bug Light and back.

This year, the event exceeded its goal of $1.75 million, reaching a record-breaking $1.98 million Sunday morning. MCF Director of Community Engagement Kristen Smith said she expects the final total to surpass $2 million.

“Very few women who do this race do it for their time,” Smith said. “They do it to be part of this community and to fight cancer.”

Spectators cheered on the triathletes, some with cowbells and signs in hand. Children sported sayings on their T-shirts such as, “Why be good at just one sport? My mommy kicks butt in three,” while men wore messages like, “Tri like a girl… I’ll catch up!”

In a field of much color and creativity, Dana Lesniak, 41, had no trouble spotting her family. She competed in her first Tri for a Cure in 2009 after her mother, Cheryl Lesniak, who lived in New York, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two days later, her mom died.

“I finished this race and I drove back to New York to help my brother take care of her for her last couple days,” Dana Lesniak said.

“Ever since then, I’ve been dedicated to this race and raising money for the cause.”

In 2014, Dana Lesniak helped create a fundraising group for MCF called the Pink Tutu Ladies, which raised $50,000 for this year’s Tri for a Cure. In nine years, MCF has awarded 251 grants totaling more than $10 million to reduce the impact of cancer in Maine.


This year’s top fundraiser was Jessica Jordan, 36, of Cape Elizabeth, whose story inspired $63,000 in donations.

Months after getting engaged, Jordan was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in February of 2016.

She and her fiancé postponed the wedding while she underwent treatment.

Shortly after finishing radiation, Jordan experienced another blow in January when her mom, Mary Jordan, died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism.

To honor her mom, Jordan decided to train and fundraise for the Tri for a Cure – her first triathlon. She finished 192nd in 1 hour, 43 minutes and 42.1 seconds.

“I was in a terrible place after she passed, and I knew that I needed something positive to look forward to,” Jordan said after crossing the finish line, where she hugged her fiancé. “My mom was the rock that held everything together. Not having her here…”

She paused before adding in a shaky voice, “I mean, I know she was with me.”

Jordan finished antibiotic treatments last month and is now in remission.

She said the Tri for a Cure was a healing experience for her family, which could be spotted on the sidelines in matching pink “Team Jordan” T-shirts. Her dad’s lip quivered, fighting tears, while discussing how proud he was of Jordan.

“I had the two worst events of my life followed by the best experience I’ve ever had,” Jessica said. “This is to ensure that somebody doesn’t have to go through what I went through. It’s so a mother and a daughter don’t have to spend their best days together going into treatment.”


Lindsay Roskelley, 35, of Falmouth won the triathlon in 1:15:25.3.

Survivors took off in the first wave, starting with the swimming portion. Heidi Watson, 45, of South Portland – a survivor of thyroid cancer – crossed the finish line first and placed eighth overall in 1:21:20.3.

Watson was diagnosed in 2011 after finding a lump on her neck. The next year, she began competing in the Tri for a Cure to take part in raising awareness for cancer.

“We found it early and got it taken care of,” Watson said. “It’s important to know your body.”

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or

[email protected]

Twitter: TaylorVortherms

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