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Armstrong goes down kicking in race; Nurse beats cyclist, raises $50,000 in 'Duel in the Pool'

Few people in the world can brag about beating seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong in a race, while raising more than $50,000 for charity, but add Orchard Park native Mary Eggers to that list.

The Rochester-area nurse and triathlete squared off against Armstrong in a University at Buffalo pool as part of a good-natured fundraiser that started as a joke and led to the pair racing two lengths of the pool Saturday afternoon using only their legs and kickboards -- the aquatic version of a potato sack race.

Funds raised from the event went to Armstrong's foundation, LIVESTRONG, and the Rochester-based Teens Living with Cancer program, which will use some of the proceeds to open a chapter in Buffalo.

"Go Mary!" yelled friends and family, as the race began in the UB natatorium.

Armstrong, who was in town for UB's Distinguished Speakers Series Saturday night, was in the lane next to Eggers, and the two were neck-and-neck for 50 meters, before Eggers reached out and touched the wall first.

"Best two out of three?" Armstrong cracked.

Eggers sensed the world-class athlete took it easy on her.

"He was definitely toying with me -- a lot," said Eggers, 38, a triathlon coach, who has run 200 triathlons herself over the past 15 years.

Saturday's oddball race was the conclusion of a funny story that began back in March, when Eggers noticed Armstrong was brought in as a last-minute replacement for UB's lecture series.

Eggers -- who has a habit of making ridiculous challenges to friends -- thought challenging Armstrong to the goofy swim race would be a great way to raise money for Melissa's Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation in Rochester, where she is a volunteer fitness coach for teens trying to get healthy after undergoing cancer treatment.

Eggers tweeted the challenge to Armstrong, a cancer survivor.

"Hey, Lance Armstrong," Eggers tweeted. "I'm challenging you to a 50 [meter] kickoff to benefit teens with cancer."

It caught the attention of others, who continued to retweet the Eggers challenge. The response was so big, it prompted a playful back-and-forth between Armstrong and Eggers.

"Wow," Armstrong tweeted, "@MaryEggers has quite the following. I guess I better start working on my kicking."

Armstrong got in touch with Eggers and the two agreed to split the proceeds between Armstrong's foundation and Melissa's Living Legacy, which will team up with Roswell Park Cancer Institute to start a program for teens living with cancer in Buffalo.

Based out of a nonprofit center in Rochester, the foundation runs the Teens Living with Cancer program, which serves as a support group so young people with the disease can socialize with one another, said Lauren Spiker.

Spiker started Melissa's Living Legacy in 2002, two years after her daughter, Melissa Sengbusch, died of cancer at age 19.

"I think even Melissa couldn't have imagined this challenge," Spiker said

Spiker, and more than 100 others, came to the event -- billed as the "Duel in the Pool" -- to thank Armstrong and cheer on Eggers.

"Mary's a maniac," said Paige Durham, 21, a cancer survivor active with the Rochester program. "She just beats to her own drum and when she sees an opportunity she takes it."

Eggers, who donned a boxer's robe before slipping into the pool, came to win.

"Her level of seriousness was a lot higher than his," said Mary's father, Jerry Workman. "He's a great guy for doing it and a good sport. He recognizes what this is all about."

After the race, Armstrong and Eggers stepped onto the winner's stand, where they continued their good-natured ribbing.

"It feels good," Eggers said. "I think I'm the first woman athlete to beat Lance Armstrong."

Armstrong said he has never competed in this type of race, and marveled at how social media was used to arrange the unlikely duel.

"It's a bummer to get 'chicked' by Mary," Armstrong said.

Spiker presented them both with trophies featuring yellow ducks in swim trunks. Armstrong then shook hands with the teens and posed for pictures, before going off to another private gathering.

At night, Armstrong spoke in Alumni Arena before 4,500 people, who gave him a standing ovation.

In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs and brain. After beating the disease, he went on to win the Tour de France seven times. He created the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help people struggling with cancer.

He talked about how his illness brought out the best in him.

"It took a good athlete with a good work ethic and made him better," Armstrong said. "That being said, I don't want to do it again."

Armstrong talked about how he had never been to Buffalo, how nice it was and how the highlight of his day was because of Eggers.

So far, the Duel in the Pool raised $51,000.

And as for Eggers, she was asked who she will be tweeting out a challenge to next.

"I'm going to hold off," she said with a smile.

email: jrey@buffnews.com