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Cluster of local women set for challenging race
sports-Michelle Lotti
Michelle Lotti - photo by Submitted
Martha Lanier needed a celebratory challenge.

Jamie Wright wanted to get back in shape after having her first child.

Michelle Lotti desired to improve upon last year’s performance.

Pam Jackson hoped to find something to occupy her time once her youngest daughter graduated from high school.

Each had a reason and set a goal. But unlike so many of us, who say things we’d like to do only to have our efforts put on hold or pushed to the side, these women were set to see their goals fulfilled June 28, as they joined the 1,200 competitors in the third annual Aflac Iron Girl Atlanta Triathlon at Lake Lanier Islands.

Part of the Aflac Iron Girl National Event Series, a series of 10 female-only nationwide events including 10K/5K runs, duathlons and triathlons, the Atlanta triathlon is open to women of all ages.

In addition to raising the fitness level of participants, the Aflac Iron Girl events raise funds for charities through donations and a percentage of the registration fees and all sales.

Though the event is only the fourth this year, $35,000 has already been raised nationally for the Aflac Cancer Center, with the Atlanta triathlon already having contributed $7,000.

With such a noble cause, it is easy to see why today’s event has been filled for over two months with participants, ranging from many locals to some from as far away as Chicago.

But the women who will put themselves to the test physically, mentally and emotionally are not giving without any reciprocation.

Whether it be the story of Lanier, a 61-year old Cumming resident and breast cancer survivor who was challenged by her two daughters to compete, or Jackson, a 47-year old Cumming widow who believes the training and today’s event are the first steps toward maintaning an active, healthy lifestyle, each woman will gain something from the experience.

When Lanier turned 50 in 1997, she wanted to celebrate in an unusual way, so her two daughters challenged her to go skydiving.

After completing a parachuted descent from the skies, the three women agreed to a new challenge every 10 years. When a decade passed and her 60th birthday came around, Lanier’s daughters — Liz Storch and Lauren Mills — challenged her to compete in the Iron Girl triathlon, something the younger two had taken up the year before.

“I half-heartedly agreed and thought about it, but something told me to hold off,” Lanier said of the challenge issued by her daughters last year, “and sure enough, in the spring I found a lump in my chest and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Instead of competing in the sprint triathlon in June, I had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. So this January when the surgeons released me to do anything I wanted or felt like doing, Lauren jumped on the chance and said ‘Okay, it’s time to register for the Aflac Iron Girl.’”

Hesitant at first, Lanier said she agreed because she couldn’t think of anything “more exciting and more challenging to do as a form of celebration” to mark her first anniversary of being cancer-free.

“I think it’s awesome,” Mills, a 34-year old Cumming resident, said. “My mom’s an inspiration to a lot of people — a lot of her friends, to my sister and me, and to the rest of the family. She has just totally amazed us.

“A lot of people get sick and it can really bring them down, but it has really given her a new lease on life. When I first mentioned [the triathlon], I didn’t think she’d go for it, but she really didn’t hesitate. She’s going to finish and do well, no doubt in my mind.”

Despite having never walked more than three miles, or having ridden a bike since she was 10 years old, Lanier has had no trouble with motivation, as both Storch and Mills also competed. Both sisters have competed in triathlons previously, but the event is the most important for them.

“I hope this is the beginning of something we do every year — helping raise money and something we can do for ourselves as women in the family,” Mills said.

Like Lanier and her daughters, Jackson is hoping this event is something that leads to bigger and better things. Despite having never entered a competitive race, the mother of two was approached by a friend about the Iron Girl. Rather than complete the entire triathlon on her own, it was requested she be a member of a relay team, something that piqued her interest.

Having two of her friends participating with her, with each completing one leg of the run-bike-swim event, Jackson thought the Iron Girl would be a “great opportunity to experience something I had never done before,” especially since she was facing the reality of the dreaded empty nest with her youngest daughter a senior at Forsyth Central.

Like many of the local competitors, Jackson joined the YMCA and began swimming on a regular basis, since that was her portion of the competition.

Besides receiving the support of her friends and family, she has received the benefits of regular exercise.

Jackson reports she has lost 23 pounds and feels better than she has ever felt.

She is hoping the event is a stepping stone that will help her toward completing the entire triathlon on her own next year.

While Jackson’s trimming down has been an added side effect, others, like 27-year old Jamie Wright of Cumming, have had shaping up as their primary goal.

Just a few months removed from birthing the first child delivered in Northside Hospital-Forsyth’s new Women’s Center, Wright wanted something tough and challenging that would allow her to get back in shape following her pregnancy.

“I’ve always been into exercising and staying in shape, so I did some research when a friend of mine mentioned possibly competing in the Iron Girl,” Wright said. “[The triathlon] seemed doable — tough, but doable, so I agreed, and my friend and I both signed up.”

Since beginning training early this year, Wright has seen the physical results and now hopes to continue training beyond this weekend, with the goal of taking on longer duration events in the future.

Regardless of where they finish — whether they have previous military training like Mills, who served nine years in the Navy; have previous Iron Girl experience such as 38-year old Michelle Lotti of Cumming, whose goal is to improve upon her time from last year; or are stay-at-home mothers with no racing experience like Jackson — each of these women can be proud they have done what so many are unwilling to do by sacrificing a little time multiple days a week to increase their fitness and overall health.

When the triathlon is broadcast on NBC in August, they will definitely have earned the right to sit on a couch or relax in a recliner and watch some TV.

E-mail Shotgun Spratling at