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Testing their mettle
Forsyth women take on Iron Girl for a good cause
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Forsyth County News
Women from around metro Atlanta will show their athletic mettle at the Aflac Iron Girl Triathlon Sunday morning, but a pair of Forsyth residents will have more on their minds than just finishing the race.

The event, being held locally for the second year at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, combines a 1/3-mile swim with 18 miles of biking and a three-mile run. It's given some locals an opportunity to do more than just get in shape,  also causing them to pause and consider the impact of cancer on their lives and those of people around them.

Carolyn Cox Barnes and her sister, Anna Cox Sample, were teenagers when their father, N. Walter Cox, died from leukemia on June 29, 1988. He was director of microelectronics at Georgia Tech when he died at 45, following an eight-month bout with cancer.

To honor Cox's memory, his daughters are raising donations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as they prepare for the triathlon, which will take place on the 20th anniversary of his death.

"This is our way of honoring him on an anniversary for our family ... Take a tragedy and turn it into a positive," said Barnes, who lives in Cumming. Sample is flying from Colorado to join her sister in the race.

So far, the women have raised $2,400.

Ali Brannon of Cumming is happy to have two healthy children, aged 7 and 2. But watching a friend's young son undergo chemotherapy between ages 6 and 11 has made her realize not everyone is so fortunate.

As part of Team in Training, Brannon is part of a group that's raised $88,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and she's also regained some of the athletic physique she possessed from her days as a competitive swimmer in high school.

"Having two young children, I kind of put my exercise on the back burner," said Brannon, 31, who has used regular cardio workouts and biking and swimming sessions once or twice a week to prepare.

"It's definitely been worth it. ... [I] feel like I'm in shape again," she said.

Brannon also hopes she can serve as an inspiration for her 7-year-old daughter, Mary Kiley, to look at health and fitness beyond the narrow messages thrown at girls and women through the media.

"There's so much pressure on little girls and women to look good. I thought about how I wanted her to see good health," Brannon said.

While her sister has marathon experience, competitive racing is new for Barnes, who has used swimming and road biking classes at the gym to get in shape.

"I'm a little nervous about it today," she said Wednesday. "I'm just hoping to complete it, not necessarily compete in it. ... I think I'll be fine doing each segment individually, but putting them all together, you worry about being able to finish."

Brannon thinks she'll do fine in the water and on two wheels, but just hopes to gut out the final segment of the race.

"The biking is my favorite. The running is my torture. Swimming is definitely my strongest point," she said.

The long arm of cancer has become clear to Brannon since she signed up for the event in February. The following month, her senior manager was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

For Barnes, now 37, the fact that her father was struck down in the prime of life has become more clear over the years, making the importance of finding a cure even more apparent.

"At 17, 45 seems really, really old, but at 37 it's not," the mother of three said.

Sports editor Jared Putnam contributed to this article.