WAKE FOREST — The annual Smile Train Triathlon here draws all levels of competitors, from beginners pushing to make it through their first race to experienced athletes who complete the course easily.
But the participants have at least one thing in common: Theyre helping to raise money so that poor children around the world who were born with a cleft lip or palate can have corrective surgery.
In the past five years, the sprint triathlon has donated more than $150,000 to Smile Train, an international organization that provides free cleft surgery for as little as $250 per child in 87 countries.
That means the money from the triathlon has paid for surgery for more than 600 children who no longer have to struggle to eat or speak or to endure the isolation that often comes with a cleft.
They can have the life that their parents want for them, said Rebecca Warriner, a Wake Forest resident who founded the race and organizes it each year.
After this Sundays race, Warriner expects the triathlons cumulative donations will reach $175,000.
Warriner began planning for the first race in 2007, hoping to expose people to the sport and bring it to Wake Forest, which at the time had no triathlon. Warriner had participated in races that raised money for a charity and wanted to follow the same model, but she hadnt yet decided on which group to support.
Thats when Warriners mother mentioned Smile Train. As Warriner researched the organization, she knew she had found a match. She liked that the organization supports local doctors in each country where it operates and earns high marks from groups that evaluate the efficiency of nonprofits. And she was drawn to the families Smile Train helps the children, of course, but also the parents who want so badly to heal them.
My heart can feel the need, she said.
In 2008, the race got its official start and has drawn hundreds of participants every year since. The triathlon consists of a 250-meter swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run.
Adina Wexelberg-Clouser, a community fundraising manager for Smile Train, said the race is one of the organizations largest fundraisers and that shes impressed every year by how much Warriner accomplishes.
She really brings together her entire community, Wexelberg-Clouser said.
Next month, Warriner will travel to Tanzania to witness the work Smile Train is doing. Shes looking forward to meeting the families, observing the doctors and nurses, and being present right after a surgery.
Im so excited Ill get to be there to feel the emotion in the room when parents see this gift their child has been given, she said.
More information is available at www.milesintosmiles.com.