COLUMBIA — Coach Nicole Pele and budding triathlete Jessica Wieberg walked to the trailhead of the MKT Trail at Forum Boulevard on a recent, humid Wednesday evening. "Soon you will be dripping sweat," said Pele, who'd already finished a very hot hourlong run.
Such is life lately for Pele and Wieberg, residents in pathology at University Hospital. When they're not studying cancer in their medical scrubs at the hospital, odds are they're on the trail in bike shorts and track shoes, contributing to cancer research in their spare time.
Wieberg is part of a newly formed Columbia chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training (TNT), a sports training program that aims to raise money for cancer research while training its members to participate in national sporting events.
The seven-member Columbia TNT chapter is training for the Nation's Triathlon this September in Washington, and each member is required to raise at least $4,500 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to get there.
For Columbia’s TNT teammates, it’s more about the mission than winning a medal or reaching a personal time goal, which is not to say that they take training for a triathlon lightly.
"For a while, I didn't know if I could do it," Wieberg said. "When I first started I could barely run a mile without stopping. But every day I see people in their 50s that die of heart attacks. I don’t want to be that person.”
Thus far, Columbia residents have been very supportive of team members' fundraising efforts, said Pele, who coaches the team along with Lise Nyrop.
“People in Columbia that we did not know gave $400 in two and a half hours” at a fundraiser outside a grocery store in May, Pele said.
In June, TNT members held a fundraiser outside Forum 8 movie theater. They rode bike trainers at its entrance and took 50 percent of all concessions purchased that night.
Members of Columbia's TNT chapter began training in May. Pele and Nyrop had trained for events together previously, and wanted to put their efforts toward a good cause.
Together they created a 20-week training schedule and devised homework assignments to prepare team members — most of whom have no triathlon experience — to bike, run and swim in Washington.
The schedule and training sessions are tailored to team members' individual skill levels. TNT is receptive to people of all fitness levels who wish to participate.
"Most people get intimidated by not knowing where to start," said Shelly Frazier, a TNT team member who competed in triathlons in medical school. "(TNT is) very comprehensive — it works if you're just beginning or advanced."
The participants will swim about a mile in the Potomac River before biking 28 miles and running another 6.2 through the streets of downtown Washington, using monuments as sight lines.
“It’s a huge commitment,” Nyrop said. “Olympic distance (triathlons are) not something somebody would do on a bet.”
In addition to Pele, Nyrop, Wieberg and Frazier, Michael Ugarte, Chris Koenig and Sherry Ritter are participating in Team In Training.
TNT's fundraising efforts are ongoing. The team will hold a trivia night at 7 p.m. July 31 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 2525 N. Stadium Blvd. Contributions can be made by searching for participants' individual Web pages at the Team in Training Web site.