Team Phoenix closes ninth season with record participation

Aurora Research Institute’s Team Phoenix, a 14-week fitness and research program, redefined cancer survivorship for a record 56 women who completed a sprint-distance triathlon July 28 at Ottawa Lake State Park in Dousman, Wisconsin.

In its ninth year, Team Phoenix is led by a team of multidisciplinary clinicians, triathlon coaches and volunteers who encourage and assist cancer survivors to regain endurance, strength, flexibility, and overall health and wellness after cancer treatment by training for a sprint-distance triathlon.

“Training survivors to become triathletes is very rewarding for the medical staff, coaches and volunteers,” said Judy Tjoe, MD, breast oncology surgeon for Aurora Health Care and Team Phoenix cofounder along with Leslie Waltke, DPT, cancer rehabilitation specialist for Aurora. “We do it for the sense of accomplishment the athletes get after they cross the finish line.”

Another season in the books

The 2019 athletes included women ages 26 to 69 who had been diagnosed with a variety of cancers, including breast, endometrial and lymphoma, at various stages. The athletes started the season with varying degrees of ability — from those with very limited experience and physical endurance to women who have completed marathons.

“The uniqueness of the Team Phoenix training program comes not only from the commonality of the athletes having survived cancer, but also from the program leadership staff and volunteers having medical training and experience working with cancer survivors,” Dr. Waltke said. “It’s a model that is gaining national attention, as Team Phoenix and its athletes were recently profiled in Sports Illustrated.”

The athletes were given multilevel training plans created by a professional triathlon training company. All athletes trained side by side with medical professionals at the twice-weekly group training sessions for the triathlon, which consisted of a quarter-mile swim followed by a 15-mile bike ride and a 5-kilometer run/walk.

Survivorship research

Eighty percent of the 2019 Team Phoenix athletes signed up to participate in a five-year research study managed by the research institute and led by Drs. Tjoe and Waltke.

The researchers are exploring the physiological, psychological and motivational aspects of team triathlon training for cancer survivors. This includes collecting samples from the athletes and using fitness trackers to record the athletes’ heart rates and exercise-related activities to analyze the impact that long-term exercise has on the quality of life and longevity of cancer survivors.

Thanks to our sponsors

The 2019 Team Phoenix season was made possible by community support:

  • Carroll University
  • Generous donors to Aurora Health Care Foundation
  • National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) Milwaukee
  • Nev’s Ink
  • QT2 Systems
  • Ruud Family Foundation
  • The Chocolate Factory
  • Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation
  • Wheel and Sprocket
  • Xperience Fitness

“Sponsor support, the triathlon coaches’ expertise, and donated time from Aurora’s medical directors and clinicians and 100-plus alumnae volunteers helped make it a successful season,” said Ilka Hoffins, Team Phoenix program director.

More than a dozen Team Phoenix alumnae participated in this year’s race and more than 30 have signed up to participate in another triathlon training program.

As it continues to redefine cancer survivorship, Team Phoenix is recruiting its 2020 participants. Cancer survivors who would like to join next year’s team should contact Hoffins at

To learn more about our research, visit

Team Phoenix athletes participated in the Tri-ing for Children's Triathlon on July 28 at Ottawa Lake State Park in Dousman, Wisconsin. 

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