When Michelle Kenworthy learned in 2010 that her mother had leukemia, there was nothing she wouldn't do to help.
Kenworthy, 36, gave her mother some of her bone marrow for a transplant in April 2011, and then nursed her through recovery.
Soon after, a friend told Kenworthy about Team in Training and the St. Anthony's Triathlon.
"All I heard was, 'Raise money to fight leukemia,' " Kenworthy said. "It wasn't until the next day that I called my friend back and said, "I agreed to do what?"
With that, the devoted daughter and schoolteacher went to work on adding another credit to her name: triathlete.
Since 2001, more than 5,000 first-time triathletes have competed in the St. Anthony's event, raising more than $17-million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
On April 28, Kenworthy and 152 other multisport athletes, each one having raised at least $1,750 for the charity, will race through downtown St. Petersburg with some of the world's top triathletes in this Olympic-distance event.
"I have to admit, I'm a little nervous," she said. "I know there will be a lot of people out there and I'm not so sure about the swim."
Kenworthy joined Team in Training in March 2012. That September, she entered the Viva Bike Vegas Race and rode for 102 miles. "I raised a lot of money," she said. "But unfortunately my mother was too ill to come with me."
The very day Kenworthy was cycling across the desert, her mother received a letter from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society offering help to pay her medical bills.
"After that, I decided to do another Team in Training event," Kenworthy said. "I wanted my mom to be able to come so I picked the St. Anthony's Triathlon."
But on Nov. 23, 2012, Kenworthy's mom lost her battle with leukemia.
"One of the last things I told my mom was she could rest because I would continue her fight," Kenworthy said. "My mom's strength is my inspiration. She was the strongest woman I know. When I hit that course, she will be with me every step of the way."
For the family
David Breede has always considered himself an athlete. All he needed was a little push to get him to complete his first Olympic-distance triathlon.
"I had a cousin who died of leukemia," said Breede, 40, who lives in Lutz and works at MacDill Air Force Base. "He was just 5 years old, so when I saw an opportunity to do something for the cause, I signed up."
Breede has two sisters who have participated in other Team in Training events. Knowing that he was working toward a goal also helped him stick with the workouts. There were times he thought about quitting, but after his brother-in-law died of liver cancer in December, he knew nothing would keep him from crossing the finish line.
"Team in Training's coaches and weekly training plans were really a big help," he said. "They also have group runs and rides, and if you find somebody at your same level of athleticism, it makes it so much easier."
Breede said that he is in better shape now than he was in college. "But this is not about self-satisfaction," he said. "I am not doing this just for myself. I think that's what makes it all worthwhile."
A father's fight
Debbie Martin was 17 when she lost her father, Albert Waterman, to leukemia. "He was just 46 years old," she said.
Before his diagnosis in March 1989, he was 6 feet 2, 220 pounds and the picture of health. "But five months later he looked like he was 80," Martin said. "When he died, he looked like a bag of bones."
A year ago, Martin couldn't run a mile. But now, after working with the Team in Training coaches, the 40-year-old mother of three is up to 6 miles in one training session. She trains six or seven times a week and can't wait to honor the memory of her father at next weekend's race.
"My schedule is very busy between family, friends, training, and work,'' Martin said. "People are always asking me how I do it.
"But it's not how I do it but why I do it," she said, "I do it to raise support for LLS.''
Martin said family and friends have rallied around her cause. "I've been touched throughout my journey by the lives we are changing," she said. "People stop to thank me all the time … I'm just thankful I am healthy and able to fund-raise for a great cause so close to my heart."
Martin won't stop with St. Anthony's. "I just signed up for the Augusta Ironman 70.3 in September," she said. "Until then I'll keep training and I'll keep raising money."