Naperville's Centennial Beach was filled with cheers, hugs and a few tears Sunday morning as roughly 1,400 women from all over the Midwest finished the Athleta Esprit de She Triathlon.
The event, a rebranded version of the successful SheROX triathlons of years past, consisted of a half-mile swim, a 14.2-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run.
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As in its past incarnations, the race was open only to women, something that participants said is a key to its appeal.
"That part of it is very important to me," said Brenda Culver of Naperville. "When you're out there on the course, the other women urge you on, support you. It's an incredibly supportive atmosphere, and I love it."
Culver, a triathlon vet who rides a mountain bike to keep in shape, said she was happy with her performance Sunday.
"I feel like this was one of my best," she said. "The run is still the hardest part for me, though. When you get off the bike, it feels like you're not even moving."
Sue Lynn of Springfield completed the biking and swimming portions of the event with her sister, Debra Futris. It was an emotional day for both of them -- Lynn is fighting ovarian cancer, and she, Futris and some friends participated in the triathlon to raise money for cancer research. (The Esprit de She Triathlon partnered with two local charities Sunday: the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and Girls on the Run Chicago.)
"The swimming part was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but also the most rewarding," Futris said. "I did this because I wanted to be side-by-side with my sister. I knew this was a memory I had to create for us. And it was amazing."
Lynn, engulfed by supporters wearing "Team B.O.C." (Beat Ovarian Cancer) T-shirts, had a difficult time describing what the day meant to her. "You'll make me start crying," she said. Her mother, Mary Jane Lynn of Des Plaines, said she was proud of her daughter and called her "an inspiration."
Sunday's triathlon was the first of 18 races that will held all over the country this year by Minnesota-based Life Time Fitness and the Athleta sportswear brand. The only other Illinois event is a July 18 run in Chicago. For information, go to espritdeshe.com.