Sisters, survivors find the Spirit of Her, race for cancer research

Nancy Bilardello May, 44, has always been active. She ran track at Naperville North and regularly enjoys swimming, biking and running. When a friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006, May, now living in West Dundee, easily competed in the SheROX triathlon on her friend’s behalf.

The women-specific triathlon, known today as Athleta Esprit de She, supports active women and celebrates fitness, sisterhood and strength.

“It is neat to see women celebrate who they are,” says May, a mother of three.

Athleta Esprit de She, or simply the Spirit of Her Race Series, takes place in downtown Naperville. The racers start with a half-mile swim in Centennial Beach, followed by a 13.3-mile bike ride on paved roads and finish with a 5K (3.1 miles) run through the Riverwalk Park area.

Women of all ages participate in the triathlon. Last year’s numbers included women from age 12 to 82 who ran in one of four divisions: Elite Pro, the Survivor Wave, by age group or with a mixed age group in the Buddy Wave.

Growing up in Naperville, May enjoyed competing in her hometown. She even encouraged her younger sister, Lisa Hurley, 41, to join her the next year and year after that.

“It is a tremendous community of women supporting each other. That’s what brings me back every year,” says Hurley, of Naperville.

In 2010, the event took on even more meaning for the sisters, who are both teachers, when May was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. May battled through a double mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.

“It was almost a year of doctors and treatments,” says May, who is now cancer free.

In support of her sister, Hurley and their sister-in-law, Ali Bilardello competed for “Team Nancy” in 2011 while May stood on the sidelines cheering them on.

As May’s treatment continued, she discovered that she carried the BRCA 2 gene and encouraged her sister to get tested. A carrier of the BRCA 2 gene has a 45 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 and an 11 to 17 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

“My sister and I are so different, I didn’t think I carried the gene,” says Hurley, the mother of two boys. When the test came back positive, a mammogram revealed Stage 0 breast cancer.

Like her sister, Hurley underwent a double mastectomy in November 2011 and reconstructive surgery in January 2012.

“My sister saved my life,” Hurley says.

This year’s race takes place on June 8, and organizers are expecting a large crowd of supporters and racers.

“We have about 2200 individual racers and close to 5,000 people with the spectators,” says Lindsey Kurhajetz, brand director for Athleta Esprit de She.

After crossing the finish line, racers can celebrate at the lifestyle market, which is tailored for women. Sponsors’ samples and services include food, drinks and spa services.

Both May and Hurley will compete in the Esprit de She triathlon this year, although now they are part of the Survivor Wave. But cancer cannot slow down the Bilardello girls.

“I have gone from, ‘I am doing this’ to ‘I am doing this because it has meaning’ to ‘I am doing this because I am a survivor,’” Hurley says.

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About the Race

What: Athleta Esprit de She, or simply the Spirit of Her Race Series

When: 7 a.m. June 8

Where: Centennial Beach, 500 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville

Web: espritdeshe.com

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