As physically grueling as competing in 50 triathlons in six years might be, it's not nearly the most difficult thing Jenn Sommermann has done.
The 48-year-old Long Island, N.Y., freelance finance consultant set a goal in 2009 to compete in a triathlon in each state in the Union before she turned 50 and raise $100,000 for ovarian cancer research.
She's 90 percent of the way toward the monetary goal for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) and nearly that close to finishing her race goal in supporting a cause obviously dear to her.
Sommermann finished that fight herself, vanquishing Stage III ovarian cancer in 2007.
"I'm just tenacious, I think," she said. "I'm just really passionate about this, and I'm willing to put my body through the wringer in order to spread the information that I have. I'm really educating women about early detection and signs and symptoms (of ovarian cancer)."
Kentucky is the 44th state on Sommermann's list, and today's 14th Buffalo Trails MultiSport Racing triathlon is her race of choice in the commonwealth.
Sommermann said her quest began "quite by accident."
While receiving a chemotherapy treatment in the hospital, she saw an advertisement in Triathlete magazine for a three-race series for ovarian cancer awareness, and her interest was piqued.
"I like to have a goal. I'm kind of driven by the dangling carrot," Sommermann said. "So I was in chemo and I said, 'If I get better, I want to do this,' and up until that time I had never known anything about ovarian cancer, that there was a race series or anything like that, so I got better and I did those three races and I wound up raising $15,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund."
Sommermann said that was the most money any individual had raised for OCRF in that fashion, and "it caught their attention."
"The president and CEO at the time said to me, 'Hey, you should consider doing all the states,'" Sommermann said. "And without really thinking about it, I said, 'OK!'
"And it wasn't until I got home and told my husband, and he was like, 'You know there's 50 (states), right?'"
Sommermann completed the U.S. Women's Triathlon Series in California, Illinois and Washington in 2008, in addition to competing in Massachusetts.
The next year, "I did a few more states, like, 'Just let me see how this feels,' and it really was around state number eight that I said, 'Yeah, this feels really good, it feels like the right thing, it feels like I was there for a reason,'" Sommermann said.
And she was off.
Four years later, Sommermann's closing in on 50 races. She plans to complete her quest this year, she said; even though she doesn't turn 50 until next year, entrance age is generally determined by the age a participant turns in a given calendar year.
She competed earlier this month in Alabama in 43-degree temperatures, which she laughingly called "just awful and wonderful, all at the same time."
Sommermann's scheduled to run in Iowa two weeks from today, and after that plans to compete in Oregon, Michigan, Wyoming, South Dakota and Hawaii, finishing her journey at the Lavaman Triathlon in Kona on Nov. 24.
She chose to run in Maysville partially because it fit her schedule, and partially because our fair city intrigued her.
"I have to sort of plan my itinerary based on weather, geography and time that I have away from work," Sommermann said. "I try not to do an East Coast and a West Coast (race) back-to-back, because it's hard on my body to fly that much, and hard on my wallet, and I picked this because it was a beautiful venue. It looks like it's really pretty. Maysville looks adorable."
Sommermann also likes the idea of swimming in the Ohio River, after having done so in the Hudson and Potomac rivers in previous events.
"The Ohio River attracted me because that's just cool. How often can you do that?" she asked rhetorically.
All of this is a platform for Sommermann to spread her message of ovarian cancer awareness.
"What I'm finding is that a lot of women think their Pap smear tests for ovarian cancer. That's not the truth," Sommermann said. "There's no test for this. So the group that I'm raising money for is trying to come up with a test. That's all they want to do, is raise money to find a test, and if it's detected in the early stages, it's curable.
"So what I tell women is, if you have peculiar symptoms, and they last longer than two weeks, make your doctor prove to you that you don't have ovarian cancer."
As such, Sommermann welcomes and encourages conversation and dialogue on the topic, both in person and online at jennsommermann.blogspot.com.
"I talk openly and honestly with women about the gory details, and I'm open to questions, and I like when people email me through my blog or call me, because if we can save a life, then I'm willing to put my body through the wringer like this," she said. "Just walk up to me. I'm super-friendly and I wear an outfit that's hard to miss. Teal is the color for ovarian cancer, so I have a big teal uniform that I wear with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund logo on it.
"Please come up and say hi, and no question is silly, and talk to me, and if you don't feel comfortable in that kind of forum, reach out to me afterwards. I try to make myself very, very available. One-on-one is great, but if somebody can learn something and go home and share it with five other women friends or family members, then we have the opportunity to spread this information exponentially."