Thirteen cancer survivors lived up to their Team Phoenix name on Sunday and created a loud and proud scene at the finish line of the Danskin Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie.
Judy Tjoe, a cancer surgeon with Aurora Health Care, soaked in the emotions of the women she recruited to help their physical and emotional recoveries.
“I was just overflowing with pride,” Tjoe said Monday. “To stand at the finish line and watch them reunite with their friends and family and hold each other for a good five minutes…
“I learned at that moment that we had the effect we wanted, to have them complete a whole new journey.”
Tjoe invited dozens of patients to join the team, which began training in early June. Fifteen signed on and two dropped out during the training phase.
Tjoe joined each of the 13 team members for the run across the finish line, and the cheers grew louder for each one, as strangers joined in the celebration for Team Phoenix.
Michele Rinka, 67, crosses the finish line supported by her Team Phoenix athletes and coaches. Photo courtesy of Aurora Health Care.
Yolanda Radford-Sartin hugs her Swim Angel/Nimble Training Coach, Mayda Crites, after completing her 0.5 mile swim, her longest to date. Photo courtesy of Aurora Health Care.
The success all but guarantees that the triathlon program will continue, with support from the Aurora Health Care Foundation and the local businesses that sponsored the team: Panera Bread, Anton’s Salon & M Spa, Salon Nova and Urban Trends Salon.
“It was an incredibly powerful day,” said Leslie Wininger, director of corporate relations for the Aurora Foundation. “It was just so inspiring to see these 13 women of completely different background and ages and levels of experience complete the triathlon together.
“They all had this common experience of having battled breast cancer. They were incredibly strong and motivated and powerful yesterday. It was just a joy to watch, plus they had so many friends and supporters there cheering them on.
“I think it’s priceless. I really do, to see these women reclaiming their lives and coming together to do something they maybe didn’t think they could do when this started.”
Dr. Judy Tjoe (left) leads the cheers for her team. Photo courtesy of Aurora Health Care
Members of Team Phoenix were scattered among the 1,269 finishers in the Danskin.
Lauren Jensen, making a recovery of her own, was the fastest in the field.
One of the area’s top triathletes, and a multiple winner in Pleasant Prairie, Jensen has rehabilitated for much of the year after suffering multiple broken bones in a cycling crash on Oct. 1. Jeff Littmann, a good friend and training partner, was killed when a car ran into the pair of cyclists.
The 44-year-old Jensen finished in 1 hour, 8 minutes and 59 seconds. That was almost four minutes ahead of Stacey Kiefer of Antioch, Ill. Anne Caudill of Glenview, Ill., was third with a time of 1:14:51.