Jenn Sommermann's reasons for racing are simple.
"By nature of my survival, I feel very special," she said. "I'm alive and I can, so I will."
After beating ovarian cancer four years ago, the 46-year-old triathlete from New York is racing to raise $100,000 for ovarian cancer research by finishing 50 triathlons — one in each state — by the time she turns 50.
On Sunday morning, Sommermann will make the 27th stop along her cross-country route at the sixth annual Mudwater Triathlon and Duathlon, a fundraiser for local charities sponsored by Kansas River Valley Triathlon Club.
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The race starts at 7 a.m. on the west shore of Lake Afton Park in Goddard.
Race director Alan Farrington said he expects Mudwater to bring in $4,000 for local charities this year; $1,500 will benefit ovarian cancer research.
The National Cancer Institute estimates 21,990 new cases of ovarian cancer in 2011; 15,460 people are expected to die from the disease this year.
Given the numbers, Sommermann said she's "part of an elite group" of women.
In 2006, weight gain, indigestion, bloating and fatigue plagued her — subtle symptoms Sommermann said she couldn't shake.
"I couldn't nap it away. I couldn't vacation it away," Sommermann said.
Two days before her 42nd birthday in December 2006, doctors found a six-pound "eggplant-sized" tumor on one of her ovaries. Within 72 hours, she had a full hysterectomy and started chemotherapy.
She calls 2007 the "cancer year." But it was also the start of a dedicated mission she calls 50x50x100.
"I looked at chemotherapy like it was a triathlon," Sommermann said. "It was an endurance event."
As she flipped through a running magazine while waiting for treatment, an article splashed with teal — the official color of Ovarian Cancer Research Fund — advertising a benefit triathlon caught her eye.
Sommermann, who took up the sport at 40, said she thought the benefit was a good fit. She competed in three races in 2007.
By the end of 2009, Sommermann had finished races in eight states.
"I just had such a good time that I thought I'd add a few more states the next year," she said.
Sommermann's campaign is self-funded. She works three jobs — massage therapist, teacher and financial manager for an advertising agency — to pay the expenses.
By the close of 2011, she will have finished races in 32 states. The campaign wraps up in 2013.
A self-proclaimed "walking billboard for OCRF and ovarian cancer," Sommermann said she will use Sunday's race as a platform for ovarian cancer education by asking women to call five friends to spread the message that paying attention to their own bodies is the key to early detection.
"It's become more of a grassroots opportunity for me to educate women about early detection and awareness," Sommermann said.
"I know that this is working. I know that lives are being saved."